March 3, 2000
A Governor Would Give Every Student a Laptop
Join a Discussion on Technology in the Classroom
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
OSTON, March 2 -- Gov. Angus
King of Maine announced a plan today to give every seventh grader in
the state a laptop computer, to use at
school or at home.
Under the plan, the first such
statewide initiative, about 17,000 students a year would receive computers as well as Internet service, beginning in fall 2002. Within six years, all
Maine students above the sixth
grade would have laptops that would
be theirs to keep.
The governor said his goal was to
bridge the "digital divide" between
students who have computers at
home and those who do not.
"Most schools in America have a
computer lab," Mr. King said. "The
problem is the computer lab is down
the hall and once a week. I want
Maine to have the most digitally literate society on earth."
But the $65 million plan, part of the
governor's revised budget proposal
for the two years ending June 30,
2001, immediately met with skepticism from members of the Legislature, many of whom said they saw
far more pressing needs in Maine's
"We do know there is a great need
for school construction and renovation, one-time needs that we know
are out there," said Senator Michael
H. Michaud, a Democrat who is co-chairman of the Appropriations
Committee that must review the financing request.
Maine is facing a $200 million
backlog of school repair projects.
Just last week, the Education Committee recommended that the state
increase it contribution to local education by $44 million.
Representative Elizabeth Townsend, also a Democrat and co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, called it a "flashy and fun"
proposal, but one that had little
chance of winning approval in the
"We hear day after day from people who have buckets in their school
buildings to catch the rain," Ms.
Townsend said. "When I go door to
door and ask people about their concerns, nobody has ever said to me:
'My seventh grader doesn't have a
laptop. Would you fix that?' "
Yet Governor King, an independent, said that he had had plenty of
positive response from educators as
well as members of the Legislature,
which Democrats control, and that
he had not been put off by initial
"This is a bold plan, and if it was
something that everyone would immediately say yes to, it would have
been done a long time ago," he said.
His proposal breaks ground in other ways, including how it would be
financed. He suggests that $50 million from the state's unallocated
budget surplus be put in a permanent
endowment, along with $15 million in
matching funds from federal and private sources. The annual interest on
the fund would pay for the computers, estimated to cost about $500 for
"I cannot think of a precedent of
this in state government, to set up a
foundation with state money," said
Senator Mark W. Lawrence, a Democrat who is president of the State
Senate. "Essentially taking a chunk
of money, setting up a foundation --
that's very different and I think
that's going to be debated in the
The project would not have been
feasible without the budget surplus,
Mr. King said. He was also encouraged by the Ford Motor Company's
recent announcement that it would
provide computers and Internet
service for $5 a month to all its
Mr. King also sees the laptop proposal as a good way to change
Maine's reputation as a backwoods
"A lot of people think of Maine as a
vacation place," he said, yet in 1995 it
was the first state to require all its
public schools and libraries to be
wired for Internet access. Students
receiving laptops would get Internet
access through the existing school
The House Speaker, G. Steven
Rowe, said he wanted to embrace
technology for students, but he went
on to say: "Fifty million dollars is a
lot of money in Maine; it's a lot
money anywhere. This would be
something that certainly would be a
nice thing to do, but we don't have
Mr. King, who is not running for re-election, said: "This is a big deal to
bring forward late in the legislative
I didn't want to spend my
retirement years looking back on a
good idea that I didn't try. This job is
too aggravating not to try new stuff."
He said he believed that other
states were moving toward the same
idea. "The only question is," he said,
"Is Maine going to lead or lag?"