The only state to provide laptops to public school students statewide said Thursday the contract it's negotiating for new devices can be used by other states if they're interested in following suit.
Maine has zeroed in on five different laptops and tablets as it prepares to replace more than 35,000 Apple laptops in middle schools and about the same number in high schools this fall. The state expects to pay between $217 and $314 annually per unit depending on which device is chosen.
This will be the third time devices have been upgraded since Maine began providing laptops to public middle schools students 11 years ago. The program has since expanded into half of Maine's high schools.
"There's always a little bit of excitement around new gear. Everyone loves new stuff," Maine Learning Technology Policy Director Jeff Mao said from his Augusta office.
With Maine's current four-year lease expiring, the state worked through the National Association of State Procurement Officials to hammer out a contract that can serve as a model for other states.
Vermont and Hawaii joined in the discussions and a half-dozen other states have shown varying levels of interest, Mao said.
By leveraging additional buying power, the number of companies offering bids for devices to be distributed this fall increased eight-fold compared to the last time the state put out a request.
Maine, Vermont and Hawaii selected five bids out of 16 that were offered: four-year leases with annual costs of $217 for an iPad, $273 for the MacBook Air, $254.86 for an HP Probook, $314.28 for an HP ElitePad, and $294 for a CTL 2go Classmate PC with swivel screen and stylus. That would be the cost for a state-run program, others could be more costly.
The contracts stipulate a warranty repair process where students won't be without a computer for more than a day, as well as professional development for teachers. Wireless networking and no-fault insurance are also available at extra cost.
In Vermont, where about 100 out of 308 of public schools are doing some kind of one-to-one program with computers, the state decided to provide a computer contract that would be optional for schools wishing to expand the use of technology in classrooms, said Peter Drescher, education technology coordinator.
Hawaii is waiting for Maine to complete its master contract before starting its own negotiations, said Stephanie Shipton, portfolio manager at the Office of Strategic Reform at the Hawaii Department of Education. Hawaii plans adopt a comprehensive strategy that integrates the digital devices with a statewide core curriculum, Shipton said.
Back in 2000, then-Maine Gov. Angus King said that providing laptops to all students, regardless of means, would help eliminate the so-called "digital divide" between rich and poor kids. In 2002 and 2003, more than 30,000 laptops had been distributed to seventh- and eighth-graders and to 3,000 teachers in Maine.
Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs wanted so badly to be part of the program that the company took a loss on the contract, King said.
The state currently pays $18 million to $19 million for the computers, Mao said.
Maine is eager to have more state join in. With more states, there's the possibility of collaboration on curricula, state standards and strategies for integrating technology in classrooms, Mao said.
AP reporters Anita Hofschneider in Honolulu and Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed to his report.