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State lawmaker favors cutting traditional textbooks in schools Rep. Carlyle says online, 'open source' material is way to go

Each year, the state government spends about $65 million on textbooks for school districts across Washington – and at least one member of the Legislature sees the spending as a big opportunity for savings.

“Textbooks are absolutely an idea whose time is long gone,” state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.  “They are expensive, they are commercially driven, they are proprietary and, worst of all, they are educationally generic.”  

In January, Carlyle will be pushing a bill in Olympia to encourage school districts to move to “open source” materials.  These are free, Internet-based publications that teachers can simply photocopy for students and that can be accessed online as well.    

The cost difference is big.  A typical textbook is $120. Photocopying similar online materials is $6.  And downloading is free.

Carlyle said the benefits are not just financial, but educational.

“Students, especially young students, learn better with these photocopied, open educational resources,” he said.  “The reason they learn better is because, the obvious, they can write on it, circle it, examine it, question it.  And they can keep it, as opposed to a textbook.”   

Carlyle’s proposal would get things started by providing money, about $750,000 per year, to help train teachers to make the switch.  But after that, he said, the financial incentives for districts will be a powerful motivator.   Any money they save on textbooks, both from local sources or from the state, could be used to help spare further cuts to classrooms. 

Textbook companies, a $9 billion industry, will be watching closely and very likely pushing back.

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