A task force that studied how to use a $50 million fund to upgrade computer technology in Maine schools presented its plan to lawmakers Jan. 31, recommending the state provide portable and wireless computer devices to schools for all seventh- and eighth-grade students and their teachers.

“Our recommendation to you is that the devices be owned by the schools, not by the students,” said Chairman Michael Brennan of the Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment.

Brennan, a former Democratic legislator from Portland, told the Education Committee he had “serious reservations” about an initial laptop-for-students proposal put forth by Gov. Angus King, who would have given more powerful computers than now envisioned by the task force directly to students.

But Brennan said changes in the caliber of the devices and how they would be distributed, as well as task force recommendations designed to tap the endowment fund to ensure teacher training and the availability of basic research content and databases, brought him on board with the revised plan.

The basic estimated cost in initial computer purchase price over a two-year period for grades 7 and 8 was pegged at about $15 million. According to the task force, various financing options could spread out upfront costs over a longer period.

The task force report said the Phase I recommendation encompasses about 242 schools with grades 7 and 8, 32,500 students, and 2,330 teachers. The report says the additional cost of expanding the program for high school grades would be $15 million over 10 years for each grade.

The plan would begin in school year 2002-03 if approved.