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Schwarzenegger's push for digital textbooks

The California governor wants to save money by dumping printed schoolbooks for online, open-source texts. But is it feasible?

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is taking a page from high school science books in an effort to shrink California's $24 billion budget gap.

In fact, he wants to take the entire book – and do away with it.

By next fall, Governor Schwarzenegger intends to make free, open-source digital textbooks available for high school math and science classes throughout California, a move that he says will help reduce the more than $350 million the state spends annually on educational materials.

Some critics doubt the idea will result in any immediate cost savings – and question a plan that might require investment in technology and teacher training at a time when schools face deep budget cuts.

But if California embraces open-source materials, which are now increasingly used on college campuses, a nationwide debate over traditional textbooks is bound to follow.

In the era of the Internet, do students really need to lug around pounds of often-outdated print?

Neeru Khosla doesn't think so. Two years ago, she helped start CK-12, a Palo Alto, Calif., nonprofit group that aims to lower the cost of course materials by offering primary and secondary schools free Web-based content. Already, the organization has partnered with Virginia to provide physics texts.

Ms. Khosla says CK-12 will submit at least eight proposals to the California Digital Textbook initiative, which the governor announced last month and detailed in a press conference earlier this week. Submitted digital books still have to be approved by state education authorities before being made available to California schools.

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