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Technology A laptop for every HISD student? District aims to meet goal in 2020-21

03:14  23 may  2020
03:14  23 may  2020 Source:   houstonchronicle.com

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If an HISD G/T student leaves the district and returns to HISD within 60 instructional days, the student retains his/her G/T identification. Out of district transfer students who have been identified as G/T by a previous school district must follow the HISD G/T identification process.

Student self-nomination. District -generated rosters of G/T eligible students to be reviewed by the Determination of eligibility is based on the HISD G/T Identification Matrix. HISD utilizes two G/T Upon completion of the Gifted and Talented Admissions Committee meeting , families and staff are informed

Houston ISD officials hope to provide every student with a district-issued laptop in 2020-21 and beyond, an ambitious target that would deliver much-needed technology to children but carry huge costs heading into an era of financial uncertainty.

a close up of a logo © Provided by Houston Chronicle

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said HISD officials are “working toward a goal” of buying computers in the coming months for all 150,000-plus elementary and middle school students. HISD high school students already get computers under an initiative, known as PowerUp, started in 2014.

District officials did not specify precisely when laptops would be issued, citing the huge demand for and low supply of computers caused by the pandemic.

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The goal of the Houston Independent School District is to ensure that every student has access to a rigorous instructional program required for college and career readiness. The Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment department is committed to meeting the district ’s instructional goal .

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“The goal is, as soon as we get them in is deploy them out,” Lathan said. “It will just take time to get the devices in. As we get them in, we’ll look to see if they’ll be given to middle school students first or elementary school students, or some at both levels.”

None of the region’s largest school districts provide district-issued laptops for all students — a reflection of the huge costs associated with the effort.

HISD officials still are calculating the price tag for outfitting 150,000-plus additional students with laptops. Chief Information Officer Scott Gilhousen told board members Thursday that early estimates put the bill at $90 million over five years for 41,000 middle school students alone.

“The part we’re working on right now is the elementary schools and what it would take to outfit those students,” Gilhousen said.

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Houston Independent School District will not provide G/T Testing for out-of- district applicants. If your child is not currently a G/T student attending a HISD school, then testing is required, please contact the G/T Coordinator at your child's current HISD school or HISD zoned campus.

In addition to buying and replacing computer equipment, HISD also likely would need to employ more staff to maintain the laptops. It is not immediately clear, though, how many additional employees would be needed.

HISD officials have not budgeted for buying and maintaining tens of thousands of laptops in their 2020-21 spending plan, which totals about $2 billion. District administrators have not outlined how they would afford the additional computers, and they did not immediately respond to a question about the cost Friday.

HISD Trustee Judith Cruz said providing technology to students is “definitely a priority,” but she called questions about affordability “a huge concern.”

“This could be over $100 million over time, and so I do think it warrants more discussion and a lot of forethought,” Cruz said.

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Students are struggling to connect in districts large and small. Los Angeles said last week that about a third of its high school students were not logging in for classes. She has a district -issued laptop , but no Wi-Fi network in her Bronx apartment since her family had trouble paying the monthly bill.

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Public schools are not planning to make significant financial cuts for the 2020-21 school year, even amid the economic fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic and crash in oil prices.

However, the school finance picture becomes far murkier in 2021-22, when the Texas Legislature reconvenes to craft a new two-year state budget. As a result, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Humble, and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath have advised school districts to budget conservatively this upcoming school year.

In the short term, the laptops would assist families struggling with a lack of at-home technology amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, which pushed most instruction online for the last 10 weeks of this school year and likely will force some classes to remain virtual into 2020-21.

“I really feel technology is not an extra. It’s an essential, especially now,” said Hogg Middle School Principal Vanessa Saldaña, whose staff provided about 130 Chromebooks to students following the shutdown of schools in mid-March.

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“Even our parents that can afford to have one device at home, now it’s being shared among multiple people, or it’s their work computer. There are still a lot of variables.”

Long-term, the technology would help bridge the so-called “digital divide,” providing more opportunities for students from lower-income families who perform worse academically, on average, than their wealthier peers.

Jamekia Ross, the mother of two eighth-graders at Williams Middle School and a second-grader at Osborne Elementary School, said the laptops would “take a big headache out of the equation” for her family. Her children juggle three tablets and a cell phone for schoolwork — none of which have external keyboards — and sometimes struggle to access online applications used by the district.

“If it’s accessible and easy, the kids want to do their work alone,” Ross said. “If they don’t think it’s easy, they want me there. I’m not able to just give them homework and go to work myself.”

HISD officials already have bought about 35,000 laptops for students and secured 4,000 wireless internet hotspots since the shutdown, Gilhousen said. The district has distributed about 26,000 hotspots, which provide free internet within a limited space to a household, in recent years following donations from Sprint and T-Mobile.

jacob.carpenter@chron.com

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