(TNS) — The Menomonie school district has about two computer devices for every three students in the high school. However, the goal for next fall is to have a 1-to-1 ratio for every student in grades 6 through 12, said Superintendent Joe Zydowsky.
"We have computers available for students, but we don't hand them out -- they don't go home with them at night," Zydowsky said. "The next step is to ensure that every student has a device, 24/7."
State Assembly Republicans have announced their 2017 legislative agenda, which includes providing laptops to every incoming high school student. Zydowsky said that while his district is headed in that direction anyway, he'd appreciate the assistance from the state.
"This proposal would certainly help us reach our goals," Zydowsky said.
Zydowsky added that it's important that staff develop curriculum for the technology.
"It's what we do with the device that's the critical piece," he said. "We have many of our instructors blending the traditional learning with digital tools."
The Chippewa Falls school district gave Chromebooks to all incoming freshman four years ago; those students are now the senior class. Three years ago, the district expanded the program and gave Chromebooks to all 1,545 students in grades nine through 12. Students are issued the laptops at high school registration in August, and they turn them in at the end of the school year.
"We still have a high school 1-to-1 ratio," said Chippewa Falls technology director Scott Kowalski. "And we have about 300 at the middle school, and they are placed in carts to be shared among classrooms. We know kids are using them, from college applications to research for school."
Kowalski said he anticipates needing a "major upgrade" next year, as the original machines purchased four years ago are showing signs of aging. The district has a class where students repair them in-house, saving on much of the costs of broken machines.
"Some are wearing out batteries, and the regular wear-and-tear," Kowalski said. "The good news is that technology keeps going down in price."
Kowalski said it was a good decision to get the machines for all high school students and it had the benefit of freeing up space in the building, as it eliminated the need for 500 desktop computers and three computer lab.
"It has helped us do different things with that space," Kowalski said.
Eau Claire schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said the district has chosen not to hand out laptops, with a few exceptions -- students in special education classes or those taking independent study or online classes may receive one.
"Students can use them while in their English class," Hardebeck explained. "We do not issue 1-to1 devices to our students."
Hardebeck said her concern is the significant infrastructure costs to support the devices.
"It would probably be welcomed by families. It is critical for (students) to have access to 21st-century tools. But there is a cost attached to that, and questions to be answered."
For instance, Hardebeck isn't sure whether the Legislature will buy the machines or if the state will provide money for the costs to keep them operating.
Superintendents at two smaller school districts in the area disliked the Republicans' plan. Cornell schools Superintendent Paul Schley said his district had handed out Chromebooks to high school students the past three years, but they dropped the plan this year because the devices broke too easily and they found having a computer alone wasn't the answer. He would rather see the money used on making sure children have Internet capability.
"I don't like this idea," Schley said of the GOP plan. "Why don't we spend the money on digital access? Just having a computer in kids' hands doesn't necessarily teach them anything -- it's just a tool."
A survey of students showed 40 percent don't have Internet access at home, he added.
"What are they doing with it? Play games? It's not the answer," Schley said.
Bloomer schools Superintendent Mary Randall also dislikes the legislative plan.
"I don't think the Legislature should mandate everything we do," Randall said. "I believe in local control. Just giving it to a kid isn't the solution the Legislature is looking for."
Randall said the proposal needs money attached to it, to teach educators how to combine their teachings with the sources available on the computers.
"We want to best educate our teachers -- there has to be a purpose to it," she said.
Randall said her school is starting to look at expanding computers in schools.
"This year, we're doing a pilot project. We've issued Chromebooks to all eighth- and ninth-graders in the school district," Randall explained. "They can take them home, with a damage deposit."
Randall said students would be given the option to later purchase the machines. The district's technology committee will review the results of the pilot program in the spring.
©2016 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.