May 29, 2013

LePage looked at ending school laptop program

He doubted its value to schools but was persuaded to let it continue, the Press Herald learns from emails as districts deal with related headaches.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Sixth-grade teacher Lisa Hatch works with Emmanuel Iglesias Tuesday, May 27, 2013, on a laptop during class at King Middle School. The class uses laptops that are seven or eight years old.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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Sixth-graders work on laptop computers Tuesday, May 27, 2013, during class at King Middle School. Gov. Paul LePage considered shutting down Maine's school laptop program last fall, newly revealed e-mails show.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Related Documents

PDF: Bowen's 2011 e-mail about Windows-based laptops
PDF: Bowen's pitch to LePage: Keep laptops
PDF: Bowen responds to LePage's comments

On Friday, the Education Department announced that Hewlett-Packard has improved its offer and will ship its ProBook 4440s with faster processors and more memory, although hard drive capacity will be reduced.

Education Department spokeswoman Samantha Warren said contracts with HP, Apple and CTC are still being finalized, "a process we hope to wrap up in June."

In preparing for contract bidding last year, she said, "there was a healthy, thoughtful dialogue both internally at the department and with the governor's office as to what would be best for Maine students and taxpayers." The laptop program, she said, "needed to offer flexibility and ... the solution needed to better align with the business world our schools are preparing students for."


Emails acquired through public records requests show that LePage has been skeptical of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which was introduced more than a decade ago by Gov. Angus King. Bowen had to convince LePage of its value.

"The governor gets digital learning, but is not convinced the MLTI program is needed for that, as he sees digital learning mostly in terms of distance learning," Bowen wrote in July to Jeff Mao, the Education Department official who oversees the program. "I think if we can develop a strong plan here, we have a chance with him. If not, you don't need to bother working on the (request for proposals) for MLTI -- he is not convinced it is making a difference."

On Nov. 2, one week before the request for proposals was scheduled to be sent out, Bowen sent the governor a three-page pitch to let the program continue.

"I know you are not convinced that the laptop program is a worthwhile program," Bowen wrote, but it should "continue in some form."

Bowen argued that by buying in bulk, the program reduces costs for taxpayers, since schools have to buy computers one way or another, and the program gets the state "a good bang for the buck."

"I get what you are saying about issues with students becoming too reliant on technology and the example you use of having to close Marden's when the lights go out because nobody can make change," Bowen said, but that is due more to "the overall ineffectiveness of the education system" than the technology, which is now as essential to schools as "electricity and heat."

Bowen said he was not satisfied with how the program was being used in classrooms, noting that it had to be made "far more about the kids than about the grown-ups, who, in the districts where good things are NOT being done, are the biggest problem."

The governor sent his memo back three days later, apparently with handwritten notes. The Press Herald has not obtained a copy of the governor's reply, but in Bowen's response he refers to the governor indicating "that he does not favor continuing the program as is," leaving the commissioner to ask "does he want the state to have any role with regard (to) a statewide bulk-purchase of laptops, even if we just then make them available to districts to purchase with their own funds?"

Bowen said that if Maine dropped the current model, it would make technology unaffordable for poorer school districts and "make it hard for many districts to implement digital learning effectively."

He also argued strenuously that the governor should allow the department to move forward with the request for proposals "and see what kinds of bids we get back." He noted that it "commits us to nothing" and if "we're not happy with the bids, we can shelve the whole thing then."

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Sixth-grader Cole McGhie works on a laptop computer, Tuesday, May 27, 2013, during class at King Middle School. Gov. Paul LePage considered shutting down Maine's school laptop program last fall, new e-mails show.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer


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