ASHEVILLE – Many Buncombe County students returning to class next week will share textbooks. Others will be using books more than 10 years old as the school system continues to deal with a sharp drop in money for new textbooks that began during the recession.
"I have students who come to me every year, and they'll say I don't understand why I don't have a textbook for this class," Owen High Principal Meg Turner said.
State funding for textbooks has dropped since 2009-10 from more than $111 million or about $76 per student to $23.3 million this year or $15.37 per student, according to Eric Moore, with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
For Buncombe County Schools, funding dropped from around $1.7 million in 2008-09 to around $368,000 in the most recent school year. That's about $14.26 per student.
State officials say the average cost of a textbook is around $60. High school textbooks can cost around $100, Turner said.
Rather than buying a book for each student, Owen High has been purchasing classroom sets of books that are used by multiple students and remain in the classroom.
"So you might have a set of 30 books to keep in the classroom and the teachers would use those and kids couldn't take them home," Turner said.
Turner said some textbooks are available online, but there's also a cost to those as well.
"My understanding is it has become common practice. Teachers get one classroom set of textbooks now. They do not get one set for each class," said Anna Stearns, who has a son at Owen High.
Stearns said during her son's freshman year she spoke with his math teacher to try to find out why her son didn't have any math homework. Stearns said the teacher told her the school didn't have textbooks or graphing calculators for students to take home.
Stearns worries about the lack of math practice at home and whether her son will be prepared for out-of-class work that will be required once he gets to college.
But school officials say homework isn't necessarily tied to a textbook, and textbooks don't play the same role they once did in the classroom.
Stefanie Buckner, a math instructional coach for county schools for Buncombe County Schools, said textbooks are just one resource for teachers. Teachers are more reliant on technology these days, she said.
"Textbooks are one of many resources that we have available as classroom teachers in Buncombe County," she said. "And teachers know best how that textbook plays into their individual curriculum."
Schools used to replace textbooks on a rotating schedule, purchasing new books when there were changes to curriculum.
"One year you would be changing the English curriculum so you'd have money and you'd put your money toward the new English books that matched the new curriculum," Turner said.
But without money for regular replacement, in some cases, students are using books that are "really, really out of date," despite changes in curriculum.
Turner said the lack of up-to-date textbooks can create a problem for advanced placement classes.
"The AP standards that are put out by the College Board have requirements around the textbooks and how recent they have to be," Turner said.
North Carolina schools are supposed to make the switch to digital textbooks by 2017, but there's been no funding allocated toward that move.
One key issue is making sure every student has a device to access the electronic textbook, according to Jim Lewis, assistant principal at Owen.
"We have BYOD, bring your own device, and some kids do bring their own devices, but even with that, there's not enough here," Lewis said. "And some of the devices that are brought don't meet minimum requirements for textbooks or for testing which sort of goes hand-in-hand with that."
Lewis said electronic textbooks don't always provide a big savings.
Here's a look at what has happened with state funding for textbooks:
• 2009-10: $111 million or $75.88 per student
• 2010-11: $2.5 million or $1.69 per student
• 2011-12: $23.4 million or $15.82 per student
• 2012-13: $22.8 or $15.28 per student
• 2013-14: $23.1 million or $15.34 per student
• 2014-15: $23.3 million or $15.37 per student
Note: This figure includes funding for Exceptional Children textbooks.
Source N.C. Department of Public Instruction