Governor wants all public schools on Internet He seeks completion of hookups by fall

June 13, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Warning that even the warehouse jobs of the 21st century will require a knowledge of computers, Gov. Parris N. Glendening set a goal yesterday of hooking up all 1,262 public schools in Maryland to the Internet by the end of this fall.

The effort is coupled with a five-year, $52.6 million administration plan to equip more than 570 Maryland schools with three to five computers per classroom between now and 2001.

As part of his "Maryland Connected for Learning" initiative, Glendening announced that the state would sponsor what he called "Maryland's Net Weekend" in late September.

That event -- which copies the well-publicized "Netday" California held in March -- will seek to enlist thousands of volunteers to help wire the approximately 800 schools that lack connections to the global Internet.

"We want the entire state to be involved," Glendening said. The governor himself vowed to participate at a Prince George's County school, although he said his technical skills probably would limit him to holding a ladder.

As he announced the initiative yesterday at a State House news conference, Glendening was surrounded by many of the state's school superintendents.

The initiative brings together two of the central themes of the Glendening administration, education and technology. At the same time, the Net Weekend plan lets the administration get Marylanders involved in a nonpolitical event that could have favorable political repercussions.

"It's good policy, good community service and good politics. People want to be involved in their community," said Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a Montgomery County Democrat who has been active on education issues. "It seems this program offers an avenue for people who do want to contribute."

A Republican legislator with a keen interest in the Internet expressed skepticism about the governor's plan. Harford County Del. Nancy Jacobs said she was concerned about the cost and the underlying assumptions of the plan.

"I don't think we're doing an adequate job of educating our young people on the basics," she said. "I'm not sure I'd want my daughter at school spending a lot of time on the Internet. I'd rather have her learning from books, learning from the traditional resources that make her think rather than depend on tools."

Glendening warned that "if our children do not know how to use computers, we will be preparing them for welfare and unemployment."

He recalled a recent visit to a Maryland distribution center where even the forklifts were controlled by computer. "It used to be a strong back and a good ethic and you could find a job in a warehouse." he said. Today, he said, that is no longer true.

The proposal won strong support from educators who attended the news conference. Jerry Kunkle, superintendent of schools in Cecil County, said the governor's proposal provides "exactly what we need."

"Being a poor county, we can't afford to spend the money on the equipment," Kunkle said. "It's critically important for the less-wealthy counties to have equity with the rest of the state."

He said the funding formula in the Glendening plan would let the Cecil County system equip a typical middle school with computers by spending $30,000 and leveraging $122,000 in state dollars.

The governor's plan includes $7.6 million allocated in the fiscal 1997 budget to equip 90 schools with classroom computers. The proposal announced yesterday would add $45.2 million from fiscal 1998 to fiscal 2001 to equip 480 more schools.

Of the total proposed spending of $52.8 million, about $19 million would be for wiring the schools, $28.2 million for hardware, $710,000 for software and $4.8 million for teacher training.

The allocation for teacher training drew praise from Karl Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, who said his organization's 46,000 members would welcome computers into their classrooms.

"Teachers are frustrated by what they perceive out there as a world that's getting ahead of them," he said. "The only technology they see is when they stop at the grocery store on the way home."

The governor's office said anyone wishing to volunteer for Maryland's Net Weekend can do so by calling a toll-free number, (888) 828-2468, starting tomorrow. Volunteers also can register through the World Wide Web at http: // mec/mdconnect.

Dates for the Net Weekend are expected to be announced in about a week.

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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