Michigan iPod proposal influenced by Apple's dime?

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A recent and controversial proposal by Democrats to purchase iPods for every schoolchild in Michigan may have been partially influenced by lobbying funds supplied by Apple, the Detroit Free Press is reporting.

According to the paper, Michigan Speaker of the House Andy Dillon and fellow party member Matt Gillard recently embarked on a 2 1/2-day trip to the west coast that included a visit to Apple's Cupertino-based campus where they discussed classroom technology and educational uses for the company's iconic digital media players.

The trip, which was reportedly funded in part by Apple, led to a $36 million proposal by Dillon last week to provide all Michigan students with iPods that they could use to download lectures and educational materials.

Representatives for Dillon did not provide details on the trip or say whether Apple paid for all or part of it, but Gillard is reported to have expressed his belief that the iPod maker covered at least a portion of the costs.

In statement to the media Tuesday evening, Dillon defended the trip by saying he was "one of several lawmakers to take this trip" and was now more "convinced than ever that the future for our children lies in education."

"As we move to the technology age and the knowledge-based economy, it would be irresponsible to separate technology from our K-12 system," he said. "I have four children, and I see how powerful technology is in their learning experience. While I believe that moving our classrooms into the 21st Century is critical to the future of our children and this state, I fully understand that unless and until we solve the state's fiscal crisis we cannot pursue this initiative."

Critics of the proposal have insinuated that policymakers are out of touch with Michigan's $600-million budget shortfall and the state's depressed economic conditions. They also view the iPod as less of an educational tool than a form of entertainment.

For his part, Gillard also defended the iPod proposal and the trip, arguing that lawmakers spent more time on non-Apple business, discussing such issues as wine distribution and Michigan business taxes. A spokesman for Dillon pointed out that similar trips have been taken in past years by other lawmakers, including many Republicans.

Matt Resch, a spokesman for the Republican leader in the House, said he believed the statement regarding Republicans was true. However, he was quick to add that those trips were never followed by the kind of proposal unveiled by the Democratic leadership to buy $36 million worth of Apple products.

 

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