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Preparing students with 21st century technology through partnerships and philanthropy

Well into the 21st century, it's distressing that schools continue to instruct in much the same way they have since Horace Mann argued for universal public schooling in the 1830s. When virtually every white collar job in America sits someone down in front of a computer on their first day of work, using digital tools in the classroom is long overdue.

Luckily, our elected leaders are starting to prioritize investments in technology, with the State Board of Education's proposed budget including $441.8 million in technology upgrades. Sen. John Legg, chairman of the Education Policy committee and a member of the Education Appropriations committee, recently agreed, saying to the Tampa Bay Times, "We've got to put resources in that area."

While we wait for state action, here in Jacksonville, philanthropists and Duval County Public Schools have also stepped up to address the challenge. In late December, the district announced that it was participating in the Qualified Zone Academic Bond program (QZAB), which will leverage more than $600,000 in philanthropic donations and $3 million in in-kind discounts from technology companies to purchase $32.6 million in technology for some of Jacksonville's lowest-income schools, including more than 25,000 laptops to be deployed to students on a one-to-one basis.

But these efforts are just the beginning. The district still has a backlog of millions of dollars in projects that need to be completed, including central data system, bandwidth and wireless upgrades. And that's before professional development, curriculum and training needs, all of which are essential if teachers are to effectively use these new devices.

Beyond those projects, technology must be an ongoing investment, ensuring all of our students have access to current technologies and cutting-edge instructional practices so they can be competitive in the 21st century workforce.