BOISE -- Idaho lawmakers are still waiting to find out if taxpayers will be on the hook for $13 million to fund a statewide school broadband system. That's money lawmakers were expecting to get from the federal government. Instead, they're now trying to figure out how to keep the network afloat. That's what a meeting Thursday morning at the Statehouse was all about.
The Idaho Education Network serves about 90,000 students. But, we've learned this legislative session that a federal agency providing three-fourths of the network funding is still determining if the department's contract is illegal or not. So, the federal government has withheld funding for a year, as a lawsuit pends.
Lawmakers can't just cancel the contract because it was renewed without them knowing about it. And on Monday, we learned that if the state just stops funding the network, taxpayers could still be on the hook for more than $13 million.
So Thursday, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee met to try to figure out how to keep the IEN going. They've said they owe it to Idaho's students.
Lawmakers have already funded the network through June, and Thursday they voted to fund it through February of 2015. The price tag for that is $4.8 million. However, there are conditions on that money. They'll allocate it month by month. The money can only be used to replace the withheld federal funds. If all the money isn't used, it goes back to the state. And, if the federal government decides the contract is legal, and pays what they owe, all the state's money will be refunded.
Also, Sen. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) says there will be a service audit of IEN to make sure schools are using it how it's intended, To me, the success of the IEN network will be based on the measurement of whether it's providing additional educational services to our kids. We have no such measurement at this point. Section five, essentially requires that measurement. The IEN is not a success if we're just providing Internet service.
Cameron says if the contract dispute still isn't resolved by the time this money runs out next February, individual districts can then start bidding out contracts on their own.
JFAC's decision isn't final, yet. It still has to be approved by the House, Senate, and the governor.