King plugging away at laptop plan

Defending his idea of providing computers to every seventh-grader in Maine, Gov. Angus King told a group of educators Wednesday that societies will fail if they don't embrace technology.

His remarks via video teleconference came during the Consortium for School Networking's annual conference. The group of K-12 educators from across the nation promotes the use of telecommunications and the Internet in public schools.

"As I see it, the future is digital. The future is technological," King said. Last year, the governor proposed spending a $50 million state surplus to give the state's seventh-graders laptop or thin-client computers. The surplus would be put in an endowment, and interest from it would pay for the computers, he recommended. Bad public reaction, however, killed the idea.

Most people thought the money could be used more wisely to fix leaky roofs in schools or fund training programs. They also questioned whether seventh-graders were responsible enough to handle the fragile, expensive computers.

The surplus was placed in a school technology trust fund and a state task force, which met through the fall, discussed how to use it. The task force said that computers should be given to the seventh-graders, but recommended that schools own the devices. "They'd be treated much like textbooks," King said.

The state would supply "mid-clients," which fall somewhere between the full computing ability of laptop computers and the network reliance of thin clients, which do not have a hard drive. He said that if the computers are network-based, the school districts could also apply for E-Rate funding.

If the plan is approved by the state legislature, the goal is to distribute computers by the fall of 2002 and use initial expenditures from the endowment to provide professional training and preparation for teachers, he said.

King said providing students with computers and access to the Internet would "take a huge whack at the digital divide."

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