Browsing at tables displaying laptops and PCs and getting an earful about wireless technology, Arizona educators began a process that will put nearly 50,000 new computers in classrooms across the state.

The state plans to spend $50 million on hardware, software, training, and support as it brings school facilities and equipment up to minimum state standards, nearly doubling the approximately 60,000 modern computers already in public schools.

“What I really like is the fact that Arizona is taking the lead on putting technology in students’ hands,” said David Roman, a gifted-education teacher and technology coordinator at Toltec Elementary School in Eloy, Ariz.

About 300 teachers and school officials attended a May 24 technology fair at the Glendale Civic Center, hearing presentations on how technology in education is likely to evolve and what they should consider getting for their schools.

Ten manufacturers and six other vendors displayed their wares, providing demonstrations for people scooping literature, mousepads, and other promotional material into plastic sacks as they went from table to table.

Districts will be able to select which computers they want from among those offered under discounted bids solicited by the state, under a school program that reportedly will save taxpayers an estimated $10 million.

Installation also is included, but it will make sense in many older schools to get wireless systems so that walls do not have to be opened up to put in cables, said Phil Geiger, the School Facilities Board’s executive director.

School districts will get as many computers as they need to comply with the state’s standard of one computer for every eight students.

Districts that already have enough computers to meet the state’s quality standard won’t get any more, but most will get at least a few, along with teacher training and technical support.

Merrell Hamblin, technology coordinator for the 1,700-student Round Valley Unified School District in Springerville, Ariz., said his district will get only 12 computers because it used its own money for computers over the years.

That’s frustrating, but Round Valley still expects to gain from the teacher training that will accompany the few computers it does get, Hamblin said: “Being so far out, it’s tough to get our teachers trained.”

Wendy Hawkins, a manager of Intel Corp.’s teacher training initiative, said the importance of student computers in schools cannot be overstated.

“You can’t work in a garage, you can’t work on a farm, you can’t work in the lumber industry without touching a computer these days,” she said.

Roman, the teacher at Toltec Elementary School, agreed.

“I didn’t get my first computer until I was in college. The kids that I work with use it for everything,” the 36-year-old said.

Toltec Elementary has 23 up-to-date computers but plans to get 67 more from the state program, Roman said.

The 760-student school used its own money and got grants and donations to get the computers it has, but that’s hard to do in rural areas without major companies, he said.

Districts have until October to place their orders and can schedule delivery through next May.

John Vipond, a Compaq Computer Corp. account manager, said the industry was surprised the state’s computer standard is actually producing action.

“I thought it was just a big wish list,” Vipond said.

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Intel Corp.

Compaq Computer Corp.