Laptops beyond grade 8? Maybe...

A proposal to expand Maine's laptop computer program from middle schools to high schools showed signs of life Tuesday, a day after several lawmakers declared it dead. State Rep. Glenn Cummings, a Democrat from Portland and co-chair of the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, said he discussed the matter with Gov. John Baldacci and Education Commissioner Sue Gendron Tuesday morning. He said it now appears that Apple, the laptop supplier, is willing to rent laptops to school districts and defer payments for a year.

That would give high schools the ability to have laptops for ninth-graders this fall. It also could put pressure on the next Legislature, which will be seated in January, to fund the expansion into high schools. However, that would be politically tricky with the state facing budget shortfalls, and after the current Legislature declined to expand the program. When former Gov. Angus King came up with the laptops idea in 2000, he envisioned the program paying for itself. At the time, the state had a budget surplus, and King wanted to put $50 million of it into an endowment. Additionally, he wanted to raise $15 million. After two years of interest, the endowment would have $80 million - enough to fund the program forever.

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