Apple’s billion dollar deal with L.A. Schools

Allison Correia
Dec 18, 2013

In June, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) announced their plan to initially roll out 32GB 4th-generation Apple iPads to every student in 47 campuses in a deal worth $30 million. The district has 640,000 students at 1,087 schools, so over the next few years the school board has committed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars with Apple. The district’s plan is to equip every student with a device by 2014. Apple is selling the iPads, preloaded with education software for $678 each with a three-year warranty. Retail price for the 32GB iPad is $599. The board unanimously voted on Apple because the iPad rated the best in quality, was the least expensive and received the highest scoring by the review panel (made up of students and teachers). Other devices that could have been considered include Chromebooks, which can be argued to offer more value for just $249 retail price, netbooks, and also Windows-based laptops, which are potentially more versatile than a tablet starting at $400 retail.

As the months have passed financial concerns to sustain the project beyond three years have already surfaced. The effort is being funded mostly by school construction bonds, a portion of which are set aside for technology. One of the latest developments is the cost for the software which is looking to be $60 million a year higher than anticipated. This is due to the licenses for the educational programs installed on the devices, which expire after three years. Originally, the district was led to believe that once the programs were paid for, they belonged to them indefinitely, however, that is not the case. At the end of the three year contract, the content will disappear or the users will be violating the licensing agreement by attempting to continue using the programs. LASUD should have thoroughly gone through the contract with the vendor prior to agreeing to it. This is an aspect of technology that is often overlooked, the cost of ownership. Over the years, the iPads will need to be fixed, or replaced, and as the school district has learned the hard way- software isn’t forever.

In November, a part of the iPad program was suspended after students hacked the security controls which denied students access to inappropriate websites. To add to the bad news, the LA Times reported that John Deasy, the superintendent of LAUSD and lead supporter of the iPad project, will be resigning come February. Deasy had called the technology upgrade an essential academic component and noted that new state tests are supposed to be taken digitally. There was to be a vote this month (December) to vote on the next phase of this $1 billion effort, but has been pushed to January after the death of board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. Two board members that have been big supports of this venture from the start, Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia, both immediately objected to the change in plans regarding the iPad vote. The latest proposal called for spending $115 million to provide iPads to students and staff at 38 schools, and for purchasing more than 67,000 iPads that could be used for standardized tests that would take place in the spring. Also, the plan involves establishing a test of laptop computers at seven high schools, to see if they work better for older students than iPads.

In the meantime, iPads are being distributed to students without the finished curriculum, and teachers are trying to figure out how to integrate these tools into the classroom. Problems regarding the iPad rollout such as cost and security concerns have resulted in delays to the project, and frustration of board members. Overall, it’s unclear how much the entire undertaking will cost the district (and taxpayers), and whether the cost is truly worth it.

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