There are a variety of ways to think about how the money to put inexpensive computers in the hands of teachers and students could be offset from other costs. In particular, textbook replacement is an obvious route, but it is difficult for the layperson to say how much of the cost of a textbook is printing. That is, what would the various spreadsheets look like if we still used the current corporate providers of educational content but ditched the paper. Well, here's one clue (via twie):
R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Tuesday said it had won a seven-year, $800 million contract from McGraw-Hill's education unit.
Donnelley, a Chicago-based printing company, said the contract covers textbooks, workbooks, testing material, teacher's editions and ancillary products.
I can't see any technical reason why McGraw-Hill wouldn't equally easily be able to announce a $500 million dollar contract to subsidize XO deployment in US schools, $25 million to subsidize related software development and, I dunno, $75 million for their server infrastructure with the goal of phasing out printed curriculum materials.
I don't know much about the textbook business, but this also implies that McGraw-Hill's "2015 vision" for education still involves lots of paper. Or perhaps if $800 million reflects less paper and without ongoing conversion to digital they'd be spending $2 billion on printing.
In related news, I've been mostly using my XO as a book reader. I read My Own Kind of Freedom and a couple other long pdf reports on it and found the experience to be quite pleasant (aside from Sugar not knowing what to do with a zipped pdf). I wouldn't feel comfortable assigning an hour of reading every night on a handheld or regular laptop (it would be possible, but difficult to compel) but I think it is reasonable on an XO.