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Oversight Panel Calls On LAUSD To Make Its Student Laptop Program Sustainable

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(Stock photo by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash)
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As the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close, the L.A. Unified School District decided to buy up to 200,000 computers for students — and then figure out how to pay for the device purchases later.

Yesterday, LAUSD figured out how to pay for it. An independent oversight board voted on Thursday and agreed it’s all right for the school district to use more than $77 million in bond funds for the emergency laptop buy.

But this appointed oversight board — LAUSD’s Bond Oversight Committee — wants the district to come up with a plan to make sure LAUSD’s laptop program is sustainable for years to come.

That’s a big deal for two reasons:

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  • It highlights that L.A. Unified now is a “one-to-one” district, permanently. The district has tried before to launch plans to provide every student with a laptop to take home and use in school — a device-to-student ratio of “one-to-one.” But past efforts haven’t gone so well. Case in point: LAUSD’s failed attempt to provide every student with an iPad. (Back then, the devices ended up having all kinds of technical problems. The deal also drew scrutiny from federal regulators and the FBI.)
  • This committee is not a fan of LAUSD using bond money — that is, money generated by voter-approved tax increases for school construction — to buy computers. The district likens the device purchases to technological infrastructure improvements, like installing a projector in a classroom. The Bond Oversight Committee doesn’t agree, and has consistently blocked LAUSD efforts to use bond funds for tech projects — including a proposed $150 million “one-to-one” initiative in 2018.

In blessing LAUSD’s request, Bond Oversight Committee members are not conceding their argument that bond funds shouldn’t be used for tech purchases — they said they’re acknowledging the gravity of the emergency the coronavirus has created.
But the committee also voted to ask LAUSD to make regular reports about who’s getting these devices, and to make a “long-term” plan to replace devices that break or become obsolete.

During its meeting Thursday, the committee’s chair, Rachel Greene, said LAUSD has to figure out this sustainability question "because at this rate, it will become a challenge to the existence of the bond program itself to continue in this manner."


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