Within a decade, every student from kindergarten through high school will have “a digital device,” Maine Gov. Angus King predicted Aug. 30. King drew national attention last year when he proposed giving every seventh-grader in the state a laptop computer.

King took to the keyboard to answer questions from believers and naysayers about the program he initiated that would put a laptop on every Maine seventh-grader’s desk in a year.

In 2003, Maine’s eighth-graders will get laptops as well. What had been a $50 million program was scaled back to $30 million earlier this year. And students won’t keep the laptops; they will be the property of schools and distributed in much the same way as library books.

If it draws $15 million in matching money by 2003, Maine’s laptop program will become permanently endowed.

King’s online discussion, part of the Washington Post’s coverage of back-to-school issues, ranged from technical to chatty. At one point, he asked a writer from Woodbridge, Va., to “cut me some slack” for his occasional misspellings.

“I’m flying without a spell checker here,” the second-term, independent governor wrote from his State House office.

In response to a query from Kennebunkport, Maine, King said the state will try to strengthen an existing network of technical coordinators in the schools. Broken laptops are to be repaired by inmates in the corrections system.

Why is Maine going with laptops as opposed to more conventional desktop models for students, a volunteer teacher in New York City asked.

King’s answer: Laptops are less bulky in classrooms, and they can go home with students.

In a similar, but sarcastic vein, a writer from Reston, Va., raised concerns about the extra weight children will carry back and forth from school. The writer asked if it would make more sense to use terminals in school “and make the kids carry bricks in their bags.”

King acknowledged that the weight of the devices is a concern and said he’s shooting for laptops that weigh six pounds or less. He predicted that online materials soon will replace many of the bulky books kids are using anyway.

Another prediction came in response to another New Yorker’s question about the Maine program’s future.

Once the seventh- and eighth-graders get laptops, the program will set out to provide them to high school students.

“I have no doubt that some kind of digital device for each student K-12 will be the norm within the next decade or so,” wrote King.

He said about 70 percent of the jobs in Maine and elsewhere involve computers, but only 5 percent of the students have daily access. “What’s wrong with this picture?” King asked.

Responding to a writer from Los Angeles who asked if the computers will block out “inappropriate materials,” King said plans call for web access through the existing school and library network “and the intention is to filter.”

In response to another query, King said Maine’s plan is to allow private- and home-schooled children to buy laptops at the state’s bulk rate so they’ll be included in the program.

An Arlington, Va., writer who was convinced Maine’s program is a “gimmick” suggested that the money should instead be used for teachers, adding new courses or buying science equipment.

King referred the writer to a web site mentioned in eighth-grade history book chapters dealing with the Battle of Gettysburg, saying, “The depth and richness of material that can be made available is so much greater than the dry textbook, there’s no comparison.”

A writer from the nation’s capital asked if King’s technical approaches might earn him the title of “Independent Education Presidential Candidate.”

“Why would anyone want to leave Maine to live in Washington?” wrote King, who has said repeatedly he has no future political plans.


Washington Post

Maine Gov. Angus King