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Electronic textbook bill gets cold reception from House committee

Published: Tuesday, March 5 2013 1:20 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to push schools away from paper textbooks lost steam Tuesday as lawmakers voted unanimously to hold the proposal in committee.

HB343 would require public schools to designate at least one classroom each year in which no paper textbooks would be used. The bill would allow local school boards to exempt individual schools from the paperless requirement, but each school district and charter school in the state would have to undergo an annual review of their textbook purchasing.

The bill originally sought to prohibit schools from purchasing any paper textbooks without a waiver from the State Office of Education, but was substituted due to concerns of the burden it would place on schools and whether students in the state have access to the Internet or e-book devices.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Orem, described HB343 as a recommendation and not a demand for schools to move toward the use of electronic textbooks. He said he foresees the likely future as one where the use of paper textbooks is minimal, if not nonexistent, and while the transition may take decades, it's important to begin the process now.

"If you're not ready, if your school isn't ready, you're not going to have to do it," Anderegg said. "But I do think we should have annual reviews because we're heading there."

Members of the House Education Committee questioned whether the bill unnecessarily took control out of the hands of local schools and school districts, many of which are already engaged in efforts to move toward electronic textbooks. Several lawmakers also commented that their constituencies include low-income families that do not have access to the Internet or the devices necessary to read electronic textbooks.

"There are so many students that don’t have Internet access in their home," Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, said. "They are not going to have this kind of access."

The committee ultimately voted unanimously to hold the bill. It will be up to the committee chairman whether the bill comes back up for debate and consideration.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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