Although senators and testifiers expressed concerns, mainly related to cost, all those speaking at the Senate’s Education, Youth and Culture Committee Friday expressed strong support for the development of a pilot e-book program in the Education Department.
The program will run in the 2012-2013 school year for elementary, junior high school and high school students. Sen. Carlton Dowe, who sponsored the bill, said the funding for the program will come from money already appropriated for a textbook program.
“It’s a tool to attract our students into learning,” Dowe said.
If the territory doesn’t adopt the e-book concept, students will be left behind, Dowe said. He said the territory needs to change with the times.
James Howell, president of the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, was concerned about who would be responsible for replacement if the e-book is lost or stolen.
“And if the e-book is lost, they’ll lose all their textbooks,” he said.
While the pilot program is yet to be developed, testifiers spoke about the inclusion of textbooks and other materials used by the students in e-book format. What device to be used remains undecided, but they mentioned the Kindle, Nook, iPad, cell phones and computers as possibilities.
Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry said traditional textbooks are less expensive.
“If cost is an issue, it’s up to us to make sure it’s not an issue,” said Sen. Janette Millin Young, who chaired the meeting.
Support wasn’t as strong for a bill to appropriate $500,000 from the Education Initiative Fund to add to the $1 million already on hand for the Labor Department’s youth summer employment program. Although all five senators at the meeting approved it, Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr. as well as Terry and her staff saw problems with the appropriation. Funding was the issue, and the Education Department said it couldn’t spare the money.
“While the department commends the intent, the department cannot support it,” Terry said.
Joanna Meyers-Rhymer, the Education Department’s director of budget control, and Young went round and round about the financial numbers. Young, who sponsored the bill, complained that she received different numbers than those presented by the Education Department. While she maintained that the money was there, Meyers-Rhymer stressed that the entire $8.9 million in the fund was obligated. The fund’s money, which goes to the Education Department for a variety of projects, comes from 25 percent of the V.I. Lottery’s proceeds.
“From now to Rules, we’ll figure out these numbers,” Young said, referring to the fact that the Rules Committee will have the next shot at the bill.
Bryan said that with the government talking about laying off workers, it wasn’t “good” for it to be funding additional jobs for youths.
Young added an amendment that mandated the Education Department work with the Labor Department to identify youths with skills appropriate for work in the Education Department’s summer maintenance program. Additionally, the amendment indicated that the program should continue throughout the school year.
Speaking in favor of the youth summer employment bill, Kenneth Blake, founder of the Anti-Crime Committee, indicated that if summer jobs are not there for the territory’s youths, drug dealers will give them jobs.
In addition to Young and Dowe, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Neville James and Sammuel Sanes voted yes on both bills and sent them on to the Rules Committee. Other committee members Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone and Louis P. Hill were absent.