What if your school district had joined a lawsuit against the state, arguing that it was receiving insufficient funding under the current school finance system…and then announced that it would provide iPod Touches and iPads to students at the stunning cost of $20 million?

That’s exactly the situation in McAllen ISD.  According to the Brownsville Herald, MISD wants to provide all 25,000 students in the district with iPads or iPod Touches.  This would be one of the largest such distributions in the nation.  The district’s director of instructional technology says it’s about “transforming learning,” no doubt trying to fend off critics of technology in general.  But that $20 million price tag is what should be giving us pause.

The fact that McAllen is taking part in the lawsuits alleging that the state doesn’t fund schools equally, and that students are at a disadvantage as a result, makes all of this extremely disturbing.  In April of last year, MISD was looking at closing schools because of budget constraints.  Where is that concern now?  Last year there was scare talk in the district over the possibility that pre-K funding would disappear with the state’s budget cuts. Suddenly those kids who may not get pre-K education provided to them because of budget cuts don’t matter as much as providing iPads?  You could also afford 500 teachers at $40,000 per year for that $20 million that the district is so eager to spend.

Education, period, needs to be the priority of school districts.  If iPads will do that, and the district can legitimately afford the expense, okay.  That doesn’t appear to be the case here,  and the district has a history of scare tactics whenever the budget appears threatened.  Taxpayers in McAllen ought to be asking for accountability – if $20 million is so readily available for this, where is it when there are more crucial matters at hand?

UPDATE:  McAllen ISD superintendent James Ponce told one source that “the cost of the program would be spread over three to five years using a mix of state, federal and private money, including grants for districts with low-income students.”  So to reiterate: this is being paid for by taxpayer dollars, no matter how you slice it.