I can buy a lot of netbooks for $30k

It's that time of year again. That's right, budgeting for the next fiscal year.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

It's that time of year again. That's right, budgeting for the next fiscal year. E-rate submission deadlines are looming, priorities are shuffling...you know the drill.

So as I sat punching numbers into a spreadsheet and thinking about how to best address critical needs and triage others, I came to a school badly in need of a tech refresh. It was ignored this year because most everything still functioned; the same couldn't be said of the schools that received tech money. The computers are right on the edge of meltdowns, though; fortunately, the network infrastructure is solid. The school just needs new machines to implement RTI programs we've put in place and to meet state standards for classroom technology.

All of our elementary schools are Mac shops and this has served them well, both in terms of teacher expertise and the computing experience. Recent refreshes have put mobile carts of MacBooks in two elementary schools and these carts are used extensively all day long. The kids are remarkably careful and respectful and I don't have to consume an entire classroom in badly space-constrained schools with a computer lab. The Airport/MacBook combination has proven outstanding in terms of range, speed, setup, and scalability.

However, these carts run on the order of $30,000 a piece. We've already been told to expect cuts in state aid next year and aren't terribly hopeful about money coming in from our town either; foreclosures are hitting everyone in this market.

Larry Dignan asked, "Where's netbook's niche?" I can answer that question with one word: Education. For $30,000, I can buy 75 Acer Aspire One netbooks instead of the set of 30 MacBooks that come in the cart. Sure, they're not MacBooks and they don't come in a slick, lockable, recharging cart. But the pricepoint in our current economy means that $12,000 gets me a full classroom set of computers perfectly appropriate for little hands.

These same little hands can access the RTI applications (web-based with a small client application), learn web research techniques, publish, and present their work (the latter three addressing state standards quite handily). Regular readers know that I love Macs, especially OS X. However, if it comes down to cutting a part-time librarian or getting netbooks instead of MacBooks, the netbooks are going to win hands down.

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