The 10th-graders in Scott Slayton’s English composition and communication class are getting a taste of what it’s like to work in an advertising agency–aided by laptop computers.

Working in teams of three or four, the Red Land High School students each use a networked wireless computer to design brochures and multimedia slide shows to sell fictional consumer products they created from Legos.

“It’s a lot more fun than [using] pen and paper,” said Tori Stambaugh, 15, whose group is marketing a universal remote control that can operate a home’s garage door, windows, and lights.

Red Land is among more than 100 high schools across Pennsylvania giving students access to laptops in English, math, science, and social studies classrooms under the state’s $20 million “Classrooms for the Future” technology grant program initiated this year. Gov. Ed Rendell has said the initiative will better prepare students to use technology in college and at work, and he is pushing state lawmakers to increase the funding to $90 million next year.

Educators say that, so far, Pennsylvania’s program–which aims to be the largest statewide ed-tech initiative in the nation–seems to be avoiding pitfalls that have plagued some school districts in other states that have tried out the idea.

But Republican lawmakers, who resisted the Democratic governor’s idea when he first proposed it last year, are opposed to expanding it, citing state budget pressures and a need to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

They also point to a recent report in the New York Times, which said the Liverpool, N.Y., school system is joining a handful of districts in other states that are abandoning laptop programs because of misuse by students, technical problems, and a lack of educational value.

“With so many other budget pressures this year, it makes precious little sense to focus tax dollars on a program that has, at best, a questionable future,” said Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware.

The state Senate also is considering legislation that would require the state Education Department to provide annual reports to lawmakers on the laptop program and its effect on student achievement.

Education Department spokeswoman Sheila Ballen said the administration put in strict controls regarding how the laptops are used. Districts such as Liverpool allowed students to take their laptops home, but Classrooms for the Future confines laptop use to the classroom during the school day, she said.

Pennsylvania’s program places special emphasis on training teachers to use the technology and know how to incorporate it into their lesson plans, Ballen added.

“There would never be an argument against putting chalk and blackboards in the classroom,” Ballen said. “In this day and age, these [computers] are the tools that you need to teach.”

In Philadelphia, where 13 high schools are participating in the program, access to laptops has enabled students to research independently questions that arise during classroom discussions, said Melanie Harris, the district’s acting chief information officer. In one classroom, Harris said, she observed students using the internet to investigate ways to stop global warming.

“If they only had a textbook, they would all be looking at the same thing,” Harris said.

At a time when many students have access to an assortment of technological gadgets at home, it makes sense for schools to have the same tools available in the classroom, said J. Thomas Frantz, superintendent of the Punxsutawney Area School District in Jefferson County, which has equipped 13 high school classrooms with laptops.

“They have laptops at home, iPods, cell phones…and then we have them open up a social-studies textbook and ask them to outline a chapter,” Frantz said. “They’re not learning the way they’re living.”

Slayton, the Red Land English teacher, said he sees the technology as a way to get students interested in concepts he’s required to teach under the state’s academic standards.

“Sometimes teachers get frustrated because the kids don’t want to learn the things we feel we have to teach them, but now, we’re giving them the things we have to teach them with things that they want to learn,” Slayton said.

Pennsylvania’s program places special emphasis on training teachers to use the technology and know how to incorporate it into their lesson plans, Ballen added.

“There would never be an argument against putting chalk and blackboards in the classroom,” Ballen said. “In this day and age, these [computers] are the tools that you need to teach.”

In Philadelphia, where 13 high schools are participating in the program, access to laptops has enabled students to research independently questions that arise during classroom discussions, said Melanie Harris, the district’s acting chief information officer. In one classroom, Harris said, she observed students using the internet to investigate ways to stop global warming.

“If they only had a textbook, they would all be looking at the same thing,” Harris said.

At a time when many students have access to an assortment of technological gadgets at home, it makes sense for schools to have the same tools available in the classroom, said J. Thomas Frantz, superintendent of the Punxsutawney Area School District in Jefferson County, which has equipped 13 high school classrooms with laptops.

“They have laptops at home, iPods, cell phones…and then we have them open up a social-studies textbook and ask them to outline a chapter,” Frantz said. “They’re not learning the way they’re living.”

Slayton, the Red Land English teacher, said he sees the technology as a way to get students interested in concepts he’s required to teach under the state’s academic standards.

“Sometimes teachers get frustrated because the kids don’t want to learn the things we feel we have to teach them, but now, we’re giving them the things we have to teach them with things that they want to learn,” Slayton said.