Michigan’s state budget office announced Feb. 20 it has signed a four-year, $68 million contract with Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) to provide thousands of laptop computers and other services to sixth graders across Michigan using federal funds.

The state Department of Management and Budget has been working on the contract since the Palo Alto, Calif.-based computer giant agreed in December to charge no more than $275 per student per year for the state’s “Freedom to Learn” program. HP also will provide technical support, insurance, and training under the program.

House Speaker Rick Johnson, a Republican from LeRoy, Mich., who first created the laptop grant program under the name “Learning Without Limits” as a pilot project in 2002, said he’s happy the effort is moving forward.

“We are ready to take the next step, together with HP, to offer even more students the opportunities that come through Freedom to Learn and our ability to reach kids through a one-to-one relationship with their teachers,” Johnson said in a news release.

Up to 40,000 students could receive laptops or other handheld devices in the program’s first year, according to the Michigan Virtual University, which is running the program with the state education department. Laptops and other technology could eventually go to all of Michigan’s 132,000 sixth graders under the program, it said.

Schools that have their applications approved will receive $250 per student in the first year of the four-year program, the Michigan Virtual University said.

The budget for the current fiscal year set aside $17 million in federal funding for the “Freedom to Learn” program. The $68 million HP contract is based on a projected $17 million in federal funding for each of its four years.

Federal funding for the program is limited to poor schools listed as high priority that fail to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, said Michelle Lavra, spokeswoman for Michigan Virtual University.

Schools considered high priority likely would include 112 that haven’t made enough improvements on test scores for five years. Nearly 900 schools didn’t make adequate yearly progress in the last school year.

Despite the restrictions on the federal dollars, Lavra said the agency is encouraging all school districts and intermediate school districts to apply so it can gauge interest in the program.

The deadline for grant applications has been extended to March 5, and the state already has received 160 applications, she said.

Schools that haven’t participated in an earlier, smaller version of the program and are awarded new grants under the program likely will begin to receive their laptops in the 2004-2005 school year that begins this fall, Lavra said.

George Warren, director of HP’s K-12 division, said the company is proud of its partnership with Michigan.

The company’s package includes 450 lessons and projects in line with state curriculum standards, teacher professional development, and a centralized, statewide portal to give teachers, parents, and students the ability to work together on improving education.

At the end of the four-year lease, districts reportedly can purchase the equipment for $1 per laptop.

Links:

Freedom to Learn
http://wireless.mivu.org