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Florida schools says maintaining student laptops for all is getting too pricey

Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orange County Public Schools prides itself on providing laptops to all students, an effort that started in 2013 and aimed to make sure everyone had access to technology no matter their family’s income.

But putting laptops in the hands of thousands of students — and keeping them running and up to date — has proved to be pricey.

The OCPS laptop repair budget for the school year that ends this week is $1.6 million, and in coming years the yearly budget to purchase and maintain laptops is at least $30 million, with more slated to be spent on classroom technology.

School leaders say they are not second-guessing the laptop initiative, which has been paid for mostly with money from a voter-approved sales tax and mirrors efforts in school systems nationwide. But they are looking at ways to curb costs.

“The repair cost is not something we can continue to sustain,” Superintendent Maria Vazquez told the Orange County School Board at a recent meeting.

Her staff is looking at leasing programs, which could reduce repair costs that mounted when the district kept older laptops in use for up to eight years. The district also is reconsidering whether younger students should take their school laptops home with them, among other possible changes.

 

“I don’t have any regrets about the devices,” Vazquez said in an interview, noting they helped OCPS shift quickly to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic that shuttered schools and pushed many students to study online.

The school district is “not going backwards,” she added, but needs to find ways to lower its tech bills.

In recent years, OCPS purchased hard, protective cases for student laptops, looking to reduce damage, and ended its policy of having students keep their school-issued laptops during the summer.

The hope was that students would use the educational programs loaded onto their devices during the long break, but few did and the summer months spent in students’ homes just increased the number of laptops needing repairs when the school year started, Vazquez said.

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