Maine has signed off on a $41 million contract with Apple Computer Inc. to provide new laptop computers to more than 30,000 seventh- and eighth-graders and their teachers, extending the school laptop program for another four years.

Maine was the first state to equip students statewide with laptops, and officials say the initiative remains the biggest of its type in the nation.

The deal announced June 29 is similar to the one reached when the project was originally launched in 2002. It works out to an annual cost of $289 per laptop.

It calls for Apple to equip 32,000 students and 4,000 teachers with iBook notebook computers and upgraded wireless networks. The four-year contract also includes warranties and perks like professional development for each of Maine’s 241 public middle schools.

The program, aimed at eliminating the so-called “digital divide” between wealthy and poor students, has been deemed a success by administrators.

In Cape Elizabeth, technology coordinator Gary Lanoie said he would have a problem on his hands if the state failed to continue the school laptop program.

“The first four years have been really good,” Lanoie said. “If we didn’t find a way to continue the project at our middle schools, our teachers would be very upset with me. They might lynch me. It’s that ingrained.”

The new laptops are improved over the older units, with greater memory, faster processors, and built-in DVD combo drives, officials say.

The older laptops are being kept instead of discarded. Those computers are being upgraded with fundraising support from former Gov. Angus King, who initiated the laptop program, and school districts are redeploying them in other grades or for other purposes.

That means the total number of laptops in Maine public schools this fall will number more than 70,000, said Maine Education Commission Susan Gendron.

Maine’s Department of Education announced in March that Apple had been chosen over CDW Corp.’s unit that provides technological services to government, education, and health care. CDW-G’s proposal called for Lenovo ThinkPads in partnership with other vendors.

Links:

Maine Learning Technology Initiative
http://www.state.me.us/mlte