School District Cancels Offer of Taxpayer-Funded iPods for Parents

A Florida school district has canceled its plans to spend $350,000 in taxpayer money to buy thousands of iPods for parents of special-needs students after it was erroneously reported that federal stimulus funds were covering the costs.

Officials in Polk County announced Tuesday their intention to distribute free iPod Nanos to the parents of children with disabilities if they completed a 10-minute survey of just 26 multiple-choice questions about school and teacher quality.

But those plans barely lasted a nanosecond, school officials told

"[W]e're going to be pulling the whole thing," said Nancy Woolcock, assistant superintendent of learning support for Polk County, which has more than 10,000 students with disabilities.

"(The money) needs to go to the students, not to the parents, so I will use that $350,000 to provide instructional materials to the students at the school sites."

The district had planned to buy the iPods with money left over from the 2008-2009 school year, part of a package of taxpayer dollars fed in as funding from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school administrators said.

But initial reports from the Florida Ledger incorrectly stated that federal stimulus money -- meant to save and create jobs -- was being spent on the iPods. The paper has since retracted that claim, and the schools are now firing back.

"The stimulus money that I received," said Woolcock, "I did use for student achievement and to save jobs" by purchasing language and reading materials for students and helping maintain a staff of school psychologists and social workers.

By the district's reckoning, the funds would have purchased about 2,500 iPods, which they intended to pack with educational information for parents who participated in the survey. The district was also planning training sessions to teach parents to use the devices.

No plans are being made to give any iPods to the students themselves, said Woolcock, who attributed the original idea to a school committee for their exceptional students program. Woolcock said her phone has been ringing constantly since news of the offer came out.

Polk is the eighth-largest district in Florida, with more than 90,000 students enrolled at 160 school sites in central Florida.