In what might be the largest initiative of its kind, Michigan is buying 91,000 computers for its public school educators, and officials say deliveries will begin by year’s end.

State officials are seeking bids to purchase 83,000 laptop and 8,000 desktop computers with internet access. It’s part of the $110-million, one-time initiative approved by the Legislature last summer for Gov. John Engler’s Teacher Technology Initiative.

“We know technology is going to drive educational quality and improvement,” said Engler spokesman John Truscott. “This should translate directly to quality in the classroom, and it’ll give teachers a chance to share with their colleagues ideas that work through eMail and chat rooms.”

Contracts were expected to be given in October to between three and five vendors to provide the equipment, software, and support services. Districts are expected to begin ordering computers in November.

Jamey Fitzpatrick, vice president of Michigan Virtual University, which is helping to coordinate the program, called it a leading-edge initiative. “No other state has ever approached anything like this,” he told the Detroit News for a story published Sept. 25.

Teachers will be able to use the laptops to communicate with parents, develop curriculum, foster professional development online, and work at home, Engler said when he proposed the idea in January.

“The teachers will be able to take the computer home, use it in the summer months and on weekends,” Fitzpatrick said. “The idea is if teachers begin to feel comfortable using technology for something of personal interest to them, it won’t be long before they use the same tool in the classroom.”

While the computers will end up in the hands of individual teachers, they ultimately will belong to local school districts. If a teacher stops teaching at a specific district, the computer stays with that district.

Training also is part of the package, officials say. Teachers who don’t have basic training will receive it, and those already proficient will receive advanced training. Teachers must demonstrate a minimum level of computer competency to be eligible for a state-funded computer. That means they must know how to get onto the internet and how to send eMail.

The state will offer free online courses to bolster training and will assess progress after one year. Teachers in a school building may vote to split program funding between technological equipment and more advanced computer training.

School districts must report their numbers of eligible full-time teachers who can take part in the program. Once they report this information, they will get an increase in state aid equal to the cost of the program—$1,200 per eligible teacher—to buy or lease the machines. A panel of educators drew up the computer specifications; school districts likely will have a few options.

Teachers will have the computers for business and personal use. However, guidelines will be imposed, Fitzpatrick said. He said the state is drafting a policy that would allow teachers to do their taxes on the computers, for example, but not use them to sell pornography.

Detroit Public Schools second-grade teacher Judy Eggly said she’s excited about getting a free laptop computer from the state.

“A lot of us don’t have access to computers at home, whether our classrooms are equipped or not,” she told the Detroit News. “I know a lot of things $110 million could be used for, but this will be a real plus to teachers who want to do lesson plans and research at home. It’s absolutely fantastic.”

Michigan Gov. John Engler

http://www.migov.state.mi.us/MichiganGovernor.htm

Michigan Virtual University

http://www.mivu.org

Detroit Public Schools

http://www.detroit.k12.mi.us