Maine Proposes Laptops for Students

Every seventh-grade student in Maine would get a free laptop that they could

keep after graduation under a precedent-setting proposal by Gov. Angus King.

Calling his bold plan a way to close the digital divide as well as a

way to put Maine on the technology map, King said it would take $50 million

of state money to accomplish, along with $15 million from federal or private

sources. If King's plan is approved, Maine would be the first state to try

such a comprehensive computer giveaway.

"We don't see another area in education where $50 million could have

such a major impact," said Tony Sprague, a spokesman for the governor.

The money is available in this year's state surplus. Sprague said the

state would place the money in an endowment fund that would be used to pay

for students' computers starting in 2002 and continuing, ostensibly, forever.

Students would get a laptop on the first day of seventh grade. Although

the computers technically would be school property until graduation, students

could take them home for homework and research.

The state does not yet have a contract with a vendor, Sprague said.

However, because Maine will be buying so many laptops at once, he said,

the state is banking on a discount that would cut the cost of each computer

to $450 to $500.

About 21,000 students and teachers would get laptops the first year,

Sprague said. The endowment would pay half the cost of equipping every

K-12 teacher with a laptop. The school districts would pay the other half.

The administration anticipates criticism, including the possibility

that kids will damage the computers and claims that the money could be used

for other educational needs, such as school renovations.

"We're preparing for a tough battle," Sprague said.

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