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Panels Clear Plan To Supply and Link All Kentucky Classes With Computers

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A state panel in Kentucky has approved a long-range plan for equipping every classroom with computers and linking all of the state's schools electronically, a long-awaited action that will advance a key element of the state's sweeping education-reform effort.

Despite a spate of last-minute efforts to amend the blueprint--which should have been approved 18 months ago--the Kentucky Council for Educational Technology this month approved the six-year, $400-million technology master plan.

Development of the plan was mandated by the legislature as part of the landmark 1990 school-reform act.

Efforts to adopt a master plan have been a bone of contention since an early version was rejected in 1991 by lawmakers who argued that it lacked sufficient detail.

The plan broadly outlines how the state should develop electronic links between every school in the state and the state education department. It also provides guidelines to school districts on how to equip classrooms for electronic recordkeeping and instruction.

As approved by the legislature, half of the $400 million needed to implement the plan will come from a special state fund set aside for the purpose, with the balance being paid by local school systems.

This month, legislators approved $15 million for the fund over the next two fiscal years.

The plan must now pass muster with both the state's legislative research commission and education board, which were scheduled to review the document late last week.

Observers said that it seemed unlikely that either body would have criticisms significant enough to stall the plan.

"I'm pretty sure that it will get approved,'' said Representative Pete Worthington, the speaker pro tem of the Kentucky House.

Mr. Worthington has been deeply involved in the process of developing the blueprint for bringing the state's schools into the information age, although critics in the legislature contend that his efforts to ensure that the plan meets with his approval have delayed its completion.

Many of them feel that Mr. Worthington, a former employee of the typewriter division of the International Business Machines Corporation, favors an overcentralized, top-down approach that is not in keeping with the spirit of local control inherent in the reform effort.

Mr. Worthington has countered that his only goal was to ensure that the massive expenditure produces a high-quality and effective system.

In a related development, the legislature late last month awarded a $175,000 contract to the Digital Equipment Corporation to advise on the implementation of the master plan. Digital had competed with Anderson Consulting and Deloitte and Touche, two other firms that submitted proposals for building the electronic network. (See Education Week, Jan. 8, 1992.)

Elements of all three proposals were built into the master plan that was approved last week, officials said.

A Computer for Every 6 Pupils

Under the terms of the reform measure, each of Kentucky's 176 school districts will adopt its own local technology plan, which must be compatible with the state master plan in order to be eligible for state funding.

As the system is envisioned, each school will have its own system of computer workstations, both in classrooms and administrative offices, that will be networked together and to the central state system to perform recordkeeping and other tasks.

In addition, the classroom workstations would be equipped with large-screen television monitors to allow for the delivery of instruction from either the computer network or the state's elaborate range of satellite-delivered courses.

The plan also calls for providing one personal computer for every six children in the state, or roughly 100,000 computers. Individual schools and districts will have the option of deciding whether to install the machines in classrooms or to group them in computer laboratories.

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