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INFORMATIONAL LETTER:  70

 

POLICY CODE:  IHAJ

 

 

TO:                  Superintendents of Schools, High School Principals, and Curriculum Coordinators

 

FROM:            Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner

 

DATE:             January 23, 2004

 

RE:                   Extending One-to-One Computing, Maine’s Laptop Program, to the High School Level

 

 

Governor John Baldacci, declared his intention in his State of the State address to extend Maine’s successful middle school laptop program to Maine’s high schools, stating that if we expect all Maine students to meet the 21st Century skills embedded in the Learning Results, we must provide each of those students with 21st Century tools for learning—wireless laptop computers. 

 

Governor Baldacci also linked student information technology skills with the needs of Maine’s emerging economic development and workforce development programs.  He added, “In short, if Maine is to position itself as a place where business and industry can find skilled workers, equipping every 7th-12th grader with a laptop is the scale at which we must create the vision for Maine’s economic future.”

 

Numerous details remain that must be worked through in time to provide laptops to next year’s 9th graders:  make arrangements with the contractor for a comprehensive package similar to our existing one, install wireless networks, provide staff development and training, and develop specific funding arrangements within the State budget.  To establish the program for next year’s 9th graders, I am recommending a funding proposal that will not impact the General Fund or compete with other State budget priorities in the next fiscal year.  I plan to develop a strategy utilizing the Revolving Renovation Fund as a bridge to a longer-term approach.  In this way, the high school laptop program will differ from Maine’s approach to the middle school program and will be built on State and local cost sharing.  

 

The Revolving Renovation Fund statute includes a provision permitting the Commissioner to identify projects that would improve learning environments.  The proposal I submitted to the Governor structures the first year of the program to include infrastructure costs of all high schools and career technical centers.  We are presently negotiating the terms of a potential contract for expanding the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) project to all 9th grade students, all high school teachers, librarians, career technical center teachers, and technology support personnel.  I am making every effort to minimize the impact on local budgets.  My plan recommends the State absorb through the Revolving Renovation Fund at least 70% of the first year costs.  I want to reassure those who have applications for Priority 1, 2, and 3 projects that we will continue to fund new projects in all three categories this spring. 

 

To meet our obligations for the remaining three years of the contract I will be arguing that costs for the high school laptop program should be embedded in the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) formula.  In the long term, we need to be thinking that technology costs are as essential as textbooks and desks.   The data provided to the Department through the Taking A Good Look At Instructional Technology (TAGLIT) assessment indicates local expenditures for technology to be in excess of $46 million.  Therefore, the combination of State funds, through EPS, and existing local resources should result in minimal future impacts to implement this program.

 

Negotiations are underway with Apple to extend the present contract into the high school.  I anticipate announcing the details and timelines for implementation in mid to late February.  The goal is to insure continuity for all current 8th grade students as they enter high school next fall.  Districts who wish to use a different platform will have a similar option as was provided with the implementation of MLTI.

 

I remain optimistic in achieving a solution to increased funding for General Purpose Aid this session and moving steadily forward to the State’s commitment of 55%.  I recognize the difficulties each of you face and hope that my plan for funding this first year provides a bridge that continues Maine’s commitment to have our students be among the best educated in the world.  We are leading not only our country but the world in providing our students with endless opportunities for learning through one-to-one computing.  I ask for your support, creativity, and advocacy with legislators in advancing this vision for all Maine students.  If information technology skills will largely define our State’s economic future, we must take steps to ensure that all Maine students reach new levels of proficiency. 

 

A key component of the current middle school program that will be extended into the high schools is professional development and training.  In this first year of the program, all secondary school teachers, librarians, technology specialists, and career technical center teachers will receive laptops and professional development training to make the most of the laptops as tools for learning.  Maine is currently seeking grant support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help underwrite this critical component.

 

Extending one-to-one computing to the high schools is supported by research.  A recently released preliminary report by the Mitchell Institute found that the high school laptop program at Piscataquis Community High School, where all 7th-12th graders have laptops, has produced very positive results.  Most significantly, the most powerful impact has been with students who have traditionally been less engaged with school.  These students report that they more frequently get homework in on time, are more likely to maintain regular attendance, and are more optimistic about their educational future.  This report can be found on the Mitchell Institute’s website at http://www.mitchellinstitute.org/PCHSinterimrpt.pdf

 

To build a more explicit link to economic development, Maine also hopes to establish a repair center here in the State that would provide additional opportunities for highly skilled worker training, as well as building a cost-effective approach to maintaining the laptop hardware.

 

I anticipate finalizing the details of this proposal in the upcoming weeks.  As the negotiations are completed I will advise you of the details with a comprehensive presentation at the February 12, 2004, Maine School Superintendents’ Association Forum on Critical Issues and through follow-up written communications.