Endangered Textbooks

January 04, 1995

Textbooks used to be as essential to a classroom as the chalkboard. That seems to be changing. While technology is making the old blackboard obsolete, budget-tightening is endangering the textbook in Anne Arundel County schools.

The textbooks county school children are carrying these days are increasingly worn and outdated.

The school board used to replace textbooks every five years. Now, in an effort to save money, textbooks are being replaced only every seven or eight years.

Although the Board of Education has increased its instructional materials budget from $5.1 million to $8.1 million over the last decade, the increase has not been nearly sufficient to keep pace with the escalating costs of textbooks. While the budget has increased 60 percent since 1984, textbook prices have more than doubled during that period.

To make matters worse, the instructional materials budget is being stretched to cover ever more items.

Besides books, the money must buy frogs for biology class, chemicals for chemistry class and paper for art class. The school board recently angered some parents when it took money from the instructional materials budget to buy paper and fluid for copy machines, arguing that photocopied materials and tests are instructional materials as well as books.

That is true, but it is beside the point. The problem is that in these last few years the school board has been trying to balance its budget at the expense of books and other materials that are essential tools for education. Because the money for instructional materials is one of the largest spending categories in the school board's budget, it has become an all-too-easy target when the board is forced to look for ways to cut costs. As a result, teachers have been making up the difference out of their own pockets, buying everything from tissues to workbooks for their students.

The question has to be one of priorities. The board should not cut the textbook budget until it has trimmed the fat from other areas, including administrative salaries.

We urge Superintendent Carol Parham to increase the money for instructional materials and start to make up for years of neglect.

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