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Arkansas gets ready for a 'bumper' crop of bookworms

Rachel Graves, a sixth-grader in the small town of Huttig, Ark., pored over education posters to search for the exact look she wanted for a new Arkansas license plate.

Her work paid off when her drawing - a pile of brightly colored textbooks topped with a red apple and smiling bookworm - rose above the other entries in a statewide contest to design new plates supporting education.

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A bill that is expected to win easy approval in Arkansas would use the profits from sales of these special license plates as incentives for elementary school students.

Starting in 2006, proceeds would go toward the purchase of a personal computer system for any eligible child who has met certain academic and attendance criteria between second and sixth grades.

"This program is helping bridge the digital divide by rewarding kids with a technology incentive regardless of where they live in Arkansas, income, or race," says Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is pushing education as a priority in the current legislative session. "Every Arkansan should support this program."

An estimated 20,000 of the $35 plates would be sold annually, with a profit of $25 each that would be deposited monthly in a trust fund.

The idea came out of Little Rock and will be administered through the cities' regional chamber of commerce.

"This shows what happens when government forms partnerships with outside groups," says Governor Huckabee.

Designs for license plates were uniform across the spectrum of state governments until changes were introduced in the 1980s, partly because of the growing influence of graphic artists.

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Since that time, license plates have become advertisements for people's interests or causes. Currently, colleges and universities make the most use of specialized license plates, which are purchased by alumni to raise both general and specially designated funds.

Indiana and Alabama have had success with programs similar to the one proposed in Arkansas.

Rachel says it's hard for her to imagine her design on the back of cars in the state, but she's certainly happy she won. After all, she received her own computer as a prize.

When Huckabee presented the computer to Rachel, he asked her to e-mail him when she logged on.

"I'll download a game first," Rachel says.

Other students will have to earn their computers by achieving proficiency in sixth-grade literacy and a 95 percent attendance rate in Grades 2 through 6.

Along the way, students will be awarded movie passes and pizza parties as incentives to keep going that extra mile until sixth grade.

"The computer is going to be as much a part of a child's education as books were when I was in fifth or sixth grade," says Huckabee. "And while book prices keep going up, computer [prices] are going down."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society