Students and local and state educators and business groups combined forces at an overflow legislative hearing to defend Maine's pioneering laptop program, in which every 7th and 8th grader currently gets an iBook.

Educators in the state are planning to extend the laptop programme to all high school's over the next two years, but have met opposition from people concerned about subsequent budget cuts in programmes that help the poor and disabled.

According to a report in The New York Times, president of the Maine School Superintendents Association Barbara Eretzian admitted: "We'll probably always struggle with budgets. But we have to find a way to make this happen."

Seventh grader Elana Siegel said: "I can't imagine going to school and not having a laptop." Ninth grader Angie Giorgetti said that no longer having use of a laptop at school it is: "Awful. I really miss it."

The state Board of Education is in support of the expansion. The Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education said: "Expansion of what is formally known as the Maine Learning Technology Initiative is not an option, it is an imperative."

Coalition chairman Peter Geiger said: "We believe continuing the laptop program is an obligation to these students, who will be held to graduation standards more rigorous than those for any other students in our nation's history."