Saving money on school textbooks

Most schools use textbooks to teach classes like math, science, history, and social studies. In the 2008-2009 school year alone, public schools spent $9,217,964 on textbooks (Department of Education Textbook Expenditures, SY2008-2009).

Ideally, we could replace textbooks as needed each year, and teachers could use the same textbooks for the same classes they teach. But my father is a public school teacher, and he tells a different story.

Instead, textbook publishers regularly print “new” textbooks with updated content, even for subjects that should seldom change, and charge more money to print the “old” textbooks. And it’s far too expensive to replace all the textbooks at the same time.

I have three ideas to save money on school textbooks and reduce headaches:

One solution is to work with local printing companies to publish textbooks. We would ask for commitments to publish the same textbooks for a minimum number of years, perhaps even contracting with local writers, so that we do not have the same problem with replacing textbooks that we do now. Not only would this help our local economy, it would provide lower costs for textbooks in terms of production, shipping, and re-orders.

Another solution is to consider “print on-demand” textbooks. Digital printing technology allows companies to only print books when an order has been received – why not textbooks for our public schools? We could order only the textbooks we need, and the publisher would not have to store additional copies in their warehouse – or charge us more for “outdated” textbooks.

A third solution is to use electronic books for small or advanced classes. eBooks are too expensive for all public schools classes, but we could try them in classes with a small number of students. School and public libraries already have computers that students can use, as well as eBooks that can be “borrowed” in EPUB, Mobipocket, and OverDrive Media formats. eBooks can’t be lost or damaged, and students would have fewer textbooks to carry around.

Any money we save on textbooks would go right back into the schools – and the teachers, who are more important than textbooks.

How else can we help our schools save money?

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One Comment on “Saving money on school textbooks”

  1. January 2011 update: The Hawaii Legislature introduced SB601 and HB533 “Department of Education; Electronic Book Pilot Program; Appropriation” that “Establishes and appropriates funds for an electronic book pilot program for one public intermediate or middle school to be selected by the department of education.”

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