PORTLAND – All Maine high schools would get laptop computers over the next three years under a funding formula proposed by the Baldacci administration, Education Commission Susan Gendron said Tuesday.

The governor is proposing to include technology funding under the state’s Essential Programs and Services model as opposed to a stand-alone budget item that failed to garner support during the last legislative session.

Gendron, who will provide details Wednesday to the Maine State Board of Education, said she believes support for laptops has turned the corner because the program has proven its value in middle schools. “To ensure that (students) have the most up-to-date tools and information, we have to stay on top of the technology resources,” she said.

The formula envisions ninth- and tenth-graders getting laptops next fall, eleventh-graders the next year and 12th-graders after that, she said.

By fiscal 2008, the state’s share would amount to $21 million for laptops in 119 high schools as well as $9 million to continue the laptop program in 242 middle schools, she said. The state’s target is 55 percent of funding; local districts would have to come up with the rest.

School administrative units would have to be granted a waiver from Gendron to spend the money for something other than technology, she said.

House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, said the laptop funding stands a better chance of passing muster with the Appropriations Committee as a component of the Essential Programs and Services.

“What they’re effectively doing is laying the groundwork for making laptops possible. In the long run, that will have a positive impact on Maine kids and the Maine economy,” said Cummings, a laptop supporter.

Two things have helped to facilitate the proposal.

First, state voters approved a tax reform proposal that boosts state spending for local schools. Second, voters rejected a tax cap proposal on November that could have slashed many municipal budgets. Maine’s first-in-the-nation laptop program, now in its third year, put Apple iBooks in the hands of more than 34,000 seventh- and eighth-graders and teachers.

But plans to expand the program into high schools were left in disarray after the Baldacci administration decided not to press the issue during a budget crisis last spring. State lawmakers adjourned without action.

State officials and local school districts scrambled to put an interim program into effect with local districts picking up the tab.

Thirty-one school districts opted into the state-administered plan at $300 per computer, and another five school districts negotiated directly with Apple Computer Corp., said Tony Sprague, project director of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative in Augusta.

Gendron said the fact so many school districts agreed to pay for laptops themselves demonstrates the value educators have put on laptops.

“When we think about the skills young people need for the 21st century, it’s critical that we provide the tools necessary to facilitate learning,” Gendron said from her office in Augusta.


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