$50 million unspent for school tech

Maine has created a 16-member task force to determine how best to use a

$50 million technology endowment fund for the state's elementary and high

school students.

The Maine Learning Technology Endowment includes $30 million allocated

this spring by the state legislature. That amount was boosted by an additional

$20 million budget surplus.

Gov. Angus King Jr. floated a plan earlier this year to use the money

to provide all seventh graders with laptop computers, but that was met with

resistance, according to his spokesman, Tony Sprague.

"There was a lot of initial skepticism to it," Sprague said. "The important

part of the governor's proposal is that it doesn't spend the money.[it puts

it] in a trust fund and only uses the interest."

The governor's plan also included raising an additional $15 million

from private sources.

Sprague said the governor envisions equipping every child entering seventh

grade — about 14,000 statewide each year — with a laptop or a thin client.

About 3,000 to 4,000 teachers would be given the same equipment. "The governor

remains committed to this plan to bring students with a one-to-one ratio

with computers," Sprague said.

Sprague said King is addressing the digital divide with his plan. "About

50 percent of Maine families have computers in their homes or are connected

to the Internet," Sprague said. "There's a much higher percentage in urban

and affluent areas, but we want to target areas in less prosperous communities.

The governor wants to see Maine students as the most digitally literate

in society."

However, several state lawmakers have said the money could be better

used for school construction or renovation projects and leave some for technology.

Whatever the conclusion, Sprague said the plan would not be implemented

until fall of 2002.

From now until Dec. 15, the task force, composed of gubernatorial and

legislative appointments, is expected to prepare a plan to be considered

by the governor and the state legislature by next spring. Any plan would

have to be passed into law, Sprague said.

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