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Wireless Access for All?

Michigan is already the first state to provide almost all its public school teachers with laptop computers. Now, a top state legislator wants to step a bit farther into the 21st century.

Speaker of the House Rick V. Johnson envisions every Michigan pupil from about grade 3 to grade 12 with a computing device—whether a laptop or a personal digital assistant—capable of wireless connection to the Internet.

"It's another piece of the puzzle that keeps students learning at record levels," the Republican said.

Rick V. Johnson

This year, Michigan gave computers to 85,000 of its 90,000 teachers at a cost of about $110 million.

Interest in providing every student with a computer is growing elsewhere.

Mr. Johnson said his inspiration came about two years ago when he saw students in his own rural school district in northern Michigan, Pine River, bring the world to their classroom using wireless laptops. A visit to the Henrico County school district in Virginia solidified his interest. There, some 30,000 laptops are expected to be handed out to the district's middle and high school students.

Michigan would need more than 1.5 million devices, at a cost likely to exceed $1 billion.

While acknowledging that the state's serious economic downturn makes the timing bad for such an expensive proposal, Mr. Johnson points to the savings in textbook, paper, and computer- lab costs that he believes the devices could make possible.

In the coming year, the speaker hopes to announce several pilot projects—at least one in a rural district and one in an urban system—while drafting a plan with the help of a citizens' advisory group.

"My goal is to get it implemented before I leave the legislature," Mr. Johnson said. Under term limits he can serve just three more years.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 21, Issue 14, Page 23

Published in Print: December 5, 2001, as State Journal

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