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Most Maine Districts Select Apple Over HP, Despite State's 'Preferred' Label

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Maine school districts are overwhelmingly voting Apple as the provider of technology devices for their students, despite a competitor, Hewlett-Packard, being given the "preferred vendor" label by state officials, including the governor.

In fact, Apple has won in an apparent landslide: 63,585 Apple devices to 5,474 HP.

For more than a decade, Maine has run one of the most ambitious education-technology programs in the country, an effort that places laptop computers in the hands of many of its middle and high schoolers. The state had a contract with Apple to provide laptops through the program, but state officials recently opened that process to other vendors.

In April, GOP Gov. Paul LePage gave HP the nod as preferred vendor for school districts, on the grounds that HP's ProBook 4440 laptop, running Windows 7 software, mirrors the tech tools students would someday use on the job. The laptops "will provide students with the opportunity to enhance their learning and give them experience on the same technology and software they will see in their future careers," LePage said in a statement.

But it appears that many Maine school districts would prefer to stick with Apple.

The Maine Department of Education revealed earlier this month that 39,457 students and educators will start using Apple's iPad tablet, this fall at a cost of $266 per year, per seat, with network connectivity. The second-most-popular option was the MacBook Air laptop, at a cost of $319, which is being ordered for 24,128 students and teachers. The HP ProBook 4440 laptop, running Windows 7, will cost $286, according to a report issued June 14 by the Maine Department of Education.

Under the four-year contract, teachers in schools that chose Apple's iPad will also receive a MacBook Air to use during that time. Although an HP tablet was offered, none were ordered as a district-wide option, according to the department of education.

"I think a lot of schools stayed with Apple because they had a little over a decade working with those solutions, so there's a comfort level. Ultimately, schools were asked to choose the one that met their students' educational needs," Jeff Mao, the Learning Technology Policy Director for Maine's Department of Education, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Maine just completed its eleventh year of its "one student, one device" program under the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Through the initiative, the state spends about $15 million annually to provide a device to all seventh and eighth graders and teachers in grades 7-12, with the option for high schools to buy competitively-priced devices for their students using the state's bulk purchasing power. (Note: Although the initiative's website says the HP laptops will come with Windows 8 installed, the devices will run Windows 7, with an opportunity to upgrade at no cost to newer versions including Windows 8 in the future.)

Two dozen districts adopted the HP ProBook, saying it "better served their students and that they were grateful to have choice for the first time," according to the Department of Education report.

The state department of education released a statement quoting an official from one of those districts, explaining why her system selected HP. Jennifer Nitchman, the director of Information Technology Services for the Town of Scarborough—which purchased 877 HP laptops—said "From a maintenance, resource, and financial perspective, the ProBook 4440 just makes sense for our district, and we feel it will best prepare our middle school students for high school and beyond."

Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District's board voted to award a $30 million technology contract to Apple Inc., as part of sweeping project that could ultimately cost $500 million. Mao said Los Angeles' deployment will give him a chance to compare notes about how to integrate iPads into schools, a conversation he began with his West Coast counterparts a year ago.

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