BOISE -- Local lawmakers and the Idaho State Department of Education are at odds over a wireless Internet contract.
State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna's office tells us the deal is authorized under Senate Bill 1200 that was passed into law during the last legislative session.
His spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, says offering wireless Internet to all high schools is something they have been working toward for years.
The State Department of Education says it received 9 bids for the managed service to provide the infrastructure and operations of high-speed wireless Internet.
On Wednesday, they awarded the five-year contract to Education Networks of America.
Through Senate Bill 1200, the State Department of Education says the Idaho Legislature appropriated $2.25 million for the installation, repair, replacement and support of a wireless technology infrastructure, in each public school serving high school grades, of sufficient capacity to support utilization of mobile computing devices by all students in such grades.
As a state, it is our goal and our responsibility to ensure every child has equal access to the best educational opportunities, no matter where they live. To accomplish this, we have to equip every public high school with the advanced technology and tools necessary to create these opportunities, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said.
Wireless Internet access is a critical component of the 21st century classroom so teachers can integrate the technology they need in the classroom, whether it is one-to-one devices or other mobile technology that improves learning and engages students in the digital world they live in today, said Luna.
McGrath added that the agreement is exactly what they've been working toward for years. She says the bill authorizes this contract.
The state has talked about implementing wireless infrastructure in high schools for a number of years. It pursued it last year and was a huge discussion in this legislative session again, said McGrath.
As for the length of the contract, McGrath explained that there is an option to back out if needed.
If for any reason the Legislature decides not to appropriate the funding for another year, or reduce the funding for another year, we can walk away from the contract or reduce the funding for the contract with no penalty, said McGrath.
McGrath added that the contract with Education Networks of America was the best bid of the 9 offers they received. It came in under budget at $2.1 million a year to build the infrastructure and operate the network.
Some legislators say they never authorized the contract, calling this latest step in education reform a tragedy.
We called several lawmakers on Wednesday to get their reaction to the contract. Some did not want to comment, but others said the announcement came as a surprise.
Senate President Pro Temp Brent Hill talked with us by phone. He said the decision caught him off guard and he doesn't know all the details of the contract, but says it could be what's best for Idaho schools.
But Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, told us he thinks the decision wasn't approved through the recently-passed bill.
I feel like the deal is forcing schools into an unauthorized contract, said Burgoyne.
It's extremely frustrating; I just cannot believe there is a public official in Idaho that didn't get the message in Propositions 1, 2, and 3 last fall, said Burgoyne.
He says while this was a topic legislators discussed at length this session, he did not think Senate Bill 1200 included a state run, five-year deal.
This was not within the contemplation of the Legislature and I think the use of the $2.25 million is a way that is outside of legislative intent. I certainly hope the superintendent has a legal opinion behind him that this is not a misappropriation of public funds, said Burgoyne.
Burgoyne says the money they allotted is only for one year, and worries that money might not be there in the future.
That makes no sense to me; that is not a good use of public money; this Legislature did not intend to waste the people's money, said Burgoyne.
The superintendent's office says Education Networks of America will begin working on the infrastructure right away.
They believe most districts across the state will choose to opt in to the system.