E-spree in Atlanta

Atlanta’s public schools have wasted millions of dollars wiring schools, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Thanks to Mark Odell, here’s the text without AJC’s annoying registration).

Atlanta Public Schools misspent or mismanaged nearly $73 million from a national program intended to give poor children access to the Internet, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found.

With virtually no limit on spending, Atlanta since 1998 has built one of the country’s most lavish computer networks for schoolchildren.

Now, Atlanta says it needs $14 million a year — three times the district’s textbook budget — just to run and maintain the network. And much of the promised benefit to students has yet to materialize.

Signs of the spending spree can be found throughout the school system.

At one elementary school, equipment powerful enough to operate a small school district runs just 20 computers. At another, Atlanta billed the program for electronics for twice as many classrooms as the school has. Millions of dollars were spent at other schools that were closed or demolished within a few years. Elsewhere, boxes of costly computer components, some still wrapped in plastic, gather dust in storage.

At three Atlanta elementary schools, the cost of bringing high-speed Internet access to classrooms reached about $1 million. Suburban Forsyth County, by contrast, paid about $200,000 for the same result at much larger schools.

The district spent money without requiring bids for the best price, with little oversight from school board members and few questions from check writers in Washington who subsidized the work. APS officials defer many questions about spending to former employees.

The national program that financed Atlanta’s extravagance, called E-rate, won’t pay for computers but helps schools pay for Internet infrastructure they might not otherwise be able to afford. Now, amid charges of waste and fraud around the country, the program faces mounting scrutiny in Washington.

Americans everywhere have picked up the tab for E-rate through a surcharge on their telephone bills.

It was Other People’s Money.

About Joanne


  1. Sounds like the modern day equivalent of the Boss Tweed court houses that were built with public funds in New York City. Minus the corruption? I doubt it, but I’m kind of a cynic. They did put up some beautiful buildings, but still.

  2. Walter Wallis says:

    My grandson does animated graphics on an Apple at school, and is computer literate at home.
    Has anyone integrated the Sims into a curiculum?
    I “download” my old computers on to him, but I wonder sometime “how does the other half live?”
    Should schools be a conduit for hand-me-down computerss?

  3. miggle's ghost says:

    I will repeat something a mother said to a judge several years ago in an Atlanta courtroom when asked about spending money (and seeking additional child support in a divorce hearing) for private schools for the children: “Sir, would you send your kids to ________ School and not think you were abusing your kids?” And there was a bonus paid to the superintendent for improving test scores. Unfortunately, the schools in Atlanta have become a jobs program for the maladroit instead of a place for children to learn. And Bill Cosby is more right than the ed-u-mucators in cities like Atlanta are going to admit.

  4. Quick question: are these schoolkids even allowed to use the internet? In 1997, my high school had gotten access for the students set up in the library–but the librarian wouldn’t let the students so much as look at the computers.

  5. What..? A government program full of waste and corruption..?

    I don’t believe it…

  6. Walter Wallis says:

    Didn’t those teachers down South get suspended for allowing students to view the beheading?

  7. Well, lets see, kids can use the internet, but can’t pass state mandated exit exams to receive their diplomas (something doesn’t add up here).

  8. A function of two things…

    1)The common “liberal” belief that the solution to all problems lies in passing laws and spending money…what happens next is not of much interest to them.

    2)The belief that technology is a form of magic, and that mere exposure to the sacred objects will somehow transform the student.

  9. Additional information: Per-student expenditures by the Atlanta Public School system is right at $10K per year.

  10. Walter Wallis says:

    The standard calc – $10K/student x 20 students = $200K. And teachers say they are underpaid.

  11. dhanson says:

    South Dakota’s schools have one of the most extensive (and successful) technology networks in the country. The wiring was done over the course of several years by inmates of the state prison. Because the program used prison laborers (who learned a trade in the process) and because the state was able to make bulk purchases of computer components, etc. the cost was reasonable and left South Dakota with an excellent ratio of computers to students.

    But you have to have a plan and you have to have oversight. The things that happened in Georgia happened because they were allowed to happen.

  12. Mark Odell says:

    The full text of the article also appears to be here.

  13. Sigivald says:

    As dhanson says, there are ways to do it more cheaply (hell, bidding on price is always a good idea).

    But more importantly, there’s the question of what the computers are going to do.

    Unless the computers and internet wiring actually help kids learn, it’s a waste of money, and complete bollocks. And in many cases, it appears that they’re not helping kids learn.

  14. Actually, Walter, you and your ilk often claim that teachers say that they are underpaid, but not many teachers on this site have ever done so.

  15. I’ve never heard a teacher complain about being underpaid. They do work summer jobs to make ends meet, but those I’ve known don’t complain. Their kids do, and the teachers’ unions do, but they don’t. The really dedicated teachers I’ve known said they would take a pay cut if that was the only way they could keep teaching.

  16. Greg Williams says:

    The Atlanta Public Schools are addicted to Other People’s Money. It’s OPM.
    As a former homeschool parent I’ve watched schools systems small and large emphasize computer technology over education. I’m unsure if they’re responding to parental/taxpayer demands or evading primary teaching responsibilities.

  17. Walter Wallis says:

    1. I have no ilk.
    2. The inference from my statement, that since teachers seldom get paid $200,000 a year perhaps too large an overhead burden is laid on the education dollar, must have missed the mark.
    3. Somebody better keep an eye on the referee, because sure as hell someone out there is always asserting that all our educational problems are a consequence of underfunding. The morning papers carried news of a Santa Clara Country parcel tax proposal for education. Individual teachers need not sing because the chorus is so loud.

  18. Ken Two says:

    The rush for technology in schools as a panacea has stimulated many articles. Parents are generally agreeable to the premise that computers have improved our lives. But they do so through the speed of calculation, ease of referencing and when it comes to writing… the ability to keyboard, cut-paste and automatically footnote with precision that makes anyone born in the age of typewriters envious beyond imagination. And many born in that age are parents, now standing with their mouth agape.

    But are the kids learning anything? and are the advances in speed taken advantage of with the introduction of additional material in the classroom? That’s what the computer provides in the workplace: the ability for one person to do a task and a half. So theoretically at least, this technology should have the affect of allowing lesson plans to be more far reaching and curriculum more extensive.

    But that’s not the case and so it might be that the money for technology is an even bigger waste of resources than we think. After all, declining scores have been accompanied by increased technology installations. Is it only coincidence or did Professor Harold Hill find a new product to hawk on one of those train rides to Iowa?

  19. Ken Two wrote:

    “But are the kids learning anything?”

    That’s the money question. If, as Ken states, technology should “have the effect of allowing lesson plans to be more far-reaching and extensive,” then its application as I’ve seen it in classrooms falls whoa-fully short. “Far-reaching” lesson plans often translates into downloaded pictures or bulleted power point presentations. (And don’t get me started on how we’ve been duped by power point graphics. Cutesie icons and a few notes do not a literate child make.)

    And when it comes to computers, “extensive” curriculum often means a few internet sources and a cut-and-paste graphic.

    If computers have improved our lives, it’s because of the supplemental resources they enable us to read. Literacy skills – the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion, the ability to locate relevant information, the ability to skim and look at headings/subheadings – still demand top billing. So don’t be swayed by the sea of head nods seen whenever someone says, “A computer in every class.” The questions few people thoughtfully ask after that are, “What for?” and “Why?”


  1. It’s for the children

    [source, source] Atlanta Public Schools misspent or mismanaged nearly $73 million from a national program intended to give poor children…