BY JOHN H. WALKER
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The days for the traditional textbook, with highlighter marks and missing pages, are numbered in North Carolina.
HB 23 and HB 44, both sponsored by State Rep. Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe) and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory on March 15, set the process in motion.
In addition to those bills, Tolson has sponsored two other bills that advance digital education in the state — HB 45 and HB 97.
“We have to do all we can to prepare our students to succeed,” Tolson said while on the campus of North Carolina Wesleyan College, where a computer networking lab he helped facilitate, had been dedicated.
“We’re fortunate the Governor is committed to advancing digital education in our state,” he noted.
On all four digital education-related bills, Tolson joined with Reps. Linda P. Johnson (R-Cabarus), D. Craig Horn (R-Union) and Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) to introduce the legislation and marshal it through the legislative process.
The first bill, HB 23, directs the State Board of Education to develop and implement digital teaching and learning standards for teachers and school administrators to ensure provision of high quality, integrated digital teaching and learning to all students.
The bill includes four sections and requires the state board to set licensure requirements, reports, lateral entry and mentor programs.
The new standards program will be effective with the 2017-2018 school year.
HB 44 emphasizes North Carolina's intent to transition from funding textbooks to digital learning materials in public schools by 2017.
The text of the bill notes that while use of a traditional textbook limits the information available to students, the transition to digital will allow access to more information sources, thus providing students with a broader base from which to draw information.
The new law directs local boards to explore the competitive environment for innovative practices, including virtual learning, that blend technology, digital devices, online learning, and traditional resources in classroom instruction and, whenever possible, implement available and appropriate high-quality virtual, digital, and instructional resources that align with the curriculum,
Gov. Pat McCrory noted that the law puts education within the reach of every citizen.
“Education for everybody in North Carolina is at our fingertips,” McCrory said. “No matter where we are, we now have access to education. We have access to the best teachers, the best material, access to knowledge and skills we’ve never had before.”
McCrory said present-day students have access to educational advantages thanks to technology that past generations did not have.
“This is going to help the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich in equal manner, where we will have access at the tip of our fingertips. From now on education is not going to be just about bricks and mortar, it’s also going to be about access to education from throughout North Carolina, from throughout the United States and globally, from Russia, China and Africa.”
Two other Tolson-sponsored bills, HB 45 and HB 97, are working their way through the General Assembly, having passed the House and are now under consideration in the Senate.
HB 45 sets aside funding to provide for an inventory of infrastructure in the state to support digital learning as well as an inventory of access in all North Carolina counties.
Tolson noted that a strong digital learning system is no good if students do not have access to the internet once they leave school.
“That is a key concern addressed in this legislation,” he said.
In order to implement the provisions of the bill, $100,000 would be appropriated from the General Fund to the Department of Public Instruction for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
The bill also directs he Department of Commerce to conduct a survey of currently available and planned community broadband connectivity and identify ways to assist in the expansion of readily accessible internet in all North Carolina counties. The department’s report to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee and to the Joint Legislative Committee on Information Technology is due by Dec. 1.