But low-cost laptops, stripped of features in more expensive units that have been popular with business since the 1990s, are enabling districts to stretch their budgets while providing more computers for students.
Princeton City Schools, in one of Cincinnati`s northern suburbs, plans to try out 288 thin client laptops with first- through fifth-graders when Heritage Hill Elementary students move into their new school next month, said Tim Dugan, the district`s director of technology and information.
Most schools can`t afford a computer for every student, although some private or church-related schools provide laptops or notebook computers to each student and build that cost into tuition or fees.
In Lorain County, voters rejected a levy in May that would have put a laptop in the hands of every middle and high school student in Oberlin.
“It`ll close the digital gap for our kids and provide them with opportunities to participate in the global society,” said Tianay Amat-Outlaw, principal of Heritage Hill, where 85 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and less than a fifth of families have a computer.
In a school district with nearly 18,500 students and 2,000 employees spread across 24 buildings, Lakota maintains about the 5-to-1 ratio of students to computers recommended by Ohio eTech, the state agency that promotes educational technology for schools. Laws said the cost of thin client laptops, including a server for every 50 of them, comes to about $420 a unit, about half the cost of a desktop.
“If done well, it can reduce the cost of ownership and provide a higher degree of manageability.” said Matt Howard, eTech`s information officer. Thin clients have some disadvantages, Laws said.