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Tablet Bill Gets Favorable Report By Senate Committee

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, March 11, Senate Bill 1 “the Alabama Ahead Act” sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) was approved by a Senate Committee.

The bill received a favorable report from the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee chaired by Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose).

Chairman Pittman said that this is the bill to replace the textbooks in the classroom with electronic devices.

SB 1 will allow implementation of a law the legislature originally passed in 2012.  The legislation improves upon current law by allowing touch-based devices, removing the phase-in period, adding all grades, and authorizing a revenue stream from the budget to pay for getting the tablets to the children.

Senator Dial said that he has taken the $100 million bond issue out of this bill.  Dial said that he is taking the bonding wording. We will not be doing a bonding. An amendment also was added to make sure that the oversight committee will not have any conflict of interest.

Sen. Dial said that the money can be used for infrastructure or training or support, because some systems already have purchased e-texts while other have not.

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Dial thanked Ms. Earlene Patton with the State Department of Technology.

For the past four years Senator Dial and State Representative Jim McClendon (R-Springville) have campaigned tirelessly for the Alabama Ahead Act and replacing old fashioned text books with electronic devices like tablets. In November McClendon was elected to the state Senate.  He and Dial are both members of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee.

Senator McClendon said in a statement, “After 4 years of working with a variety of educators, administrators, IT experts, and consulting with those in AL and other states that have made the conversation from traditional textbooks to digital media, this legislation is poised for passage. The financing has been determined and we soon will see a reduction in the pressure on the education trust fund. Ultimately we will save $15-20 million annually. More importantly, test scores will go up, graduation rates will go up, attendance will go up, and disciplinary issues will go down. We have made a special effort to insure that all school systems will be able to benefit, including  those in low income areas of the State.”

Many people have fought earlier versions of the tablets bill because of wording that funded the initiative through a controversial $100 million bond issue.  The 2015 version of the bill removes the bonding wording.

Alabama Legislative Watchdogs activist and Rainy Day Patriots Co-Chair, Ann Eubank wrote in a statement to the Alabama Political Reporter,

“After 2 years of fighting the $100 million bond component of the Alabama Ahead Act, we succeeded in forcing Senators Dial and McClendon to drop it and find funding from the budget instead. (Which is where it should have come from initially.) The Alabama Ahead Act initially was designed to purchase a tablet for every student in the State. Bonds are for capital purchases that will still have value after the 20 year maturity date, obviously a tablet will be obsolete in just 3 years. Does that sound like common sense?  A 20 year 100 million dollar bond issue with interest payments for a piece of equipment that lasts 3 years?  We are excited that they finally saw the light.”

According to some estimates SB1 will save the State up to $25 million per year versus purchasing the old fashioned textbooks most of us remember lugging around.

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Sen. Dial said in a written statement last year, “Our students live in a digital world, and today the Alabama Senate took one giant step forward toward creating a 21st century learning environment. Digital textbooks have been proven to reduce costs, increase student participation, and reduce behavior problems…An investment in technology for our students is prudent and will yield untold results, which will translate to a better economy and more jobs.”

Last year Apple announced that there are approximately 25,000 educational titles that have been specially created for the iPad.

According to Apple, these titles have been created by independent publishers, teachers and leading education services companies, including new educational content from Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Hodder Education. Apple says that iBooks Textbooks now cover 100 percent of US high school core curriculum and the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) core curriculum in the UK.

According to Apple, iBooks Textbooks are now available to teachers and students in 51 countries and 70 countries now have access to iTunes U.

Apple is just one of the technology companies that are seeking to develop this growing educational technology sector.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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