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HP seals Michigan schools deal

Hewlett-Packard laptops will head to class under a $68 million contract. The program could reach as many as 132,000 students.

Hewlett-Packard said Friday that it has finalized a $68 million deal to provide notebook computers to sixth grade students in the state of Michigan.

As previously reported, the Palo Alto, Calif., company outbid a number of computer makers, including Apple Computer, Dell and Gateway, to land the deal. The agreement covers the next four years and will provide computer access to thousands of public school children throughout the state.

Under terms of the agreement, each student will receive an HP nx9010 notebook computer with an Intel processor running at 2.4GHz or faster, a 30GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, and a 14-inch color LCD (liquid crystal display) screen. The machines will offer a wireless connection via a Broadcom card and a built-in antenna supporting 802.11b technology.

HP said the program could reach as many as 132,000 students. The actual number of participants will depend on school participation and funding levels. As many as 40,000 students could receive computers during the first year of the contract. In addition, the company will provide teachers with training and curriculum assistance. Students and their instructors will be supplied with Microsoft Office Professional software.

The contract was awarded under Michigan's Freedom to Learn Initiative, a program designed to improve the academic performance of the state's students. In December 2003, HP announced that it was granted $17 million in federal funds related to the program, but the company only recently received details of the official size of the deal. A Michigan Department of Education representative said that HP won the contract based on its ability to assist teachers with computer training and curriculum planning.

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David Spencer, chief executive of the Michigan Virtual University--a not-for-profit corporation that delivers online education and training to Michigan's work force--believes the Freedom to Learn Initiative will have a significant impact on the state's school children. He said it will address everything from individual learning needs to teachers' skills development.

"The goal is to make technology a seamless part of the curriculum and grow the program with a holistic view as time passes," Spencer said. "We know that the earlier we can get tools like this to children, the greater the ability we have to help increase their learning."

Typically accounting for only a fraction of the personal computer market, the education sector has grown increasingly competitive as school departments enlist technology to help improve academics amid shrinking budgets. Vendors including Apple, Dell, HP and IBM have all stepped up efforts to win business in the education market over the last several years.