BOISE, Idaho — Lawmakers on the Legislature's joint budget committee say Idaho school districts that chose not to join a statewide contract for high school Wi-Fi services should qualify for state funding for their own Wi-Fi networks.
The Spokesman-Review reports (http://bit.ly/1chJXqB) that the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee also on Friday gave districts that joined the contract the choice to withdraw and also get state funding for their own Wi-Fi networks.
The vote was 15-5.
The state is planning to conduct a service audit to see what services are being provided where and for what cost.
"Next year we would be able to make a decision as to how to proceed - whether to continue with the contract, or whether to do something completely different," said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. "We'll have a better defensible position."
The Education Department says 203 Idaho schools signed up for Education Networks of America Wi-Fi, part of a five-year contract that public schools chief Tom Luna hopes will boost classroom use of technology.
Luna in July signed a contract with Education Networks of America that included a one-time appropriation from the Legislature of $2.25 million for the current school year. The contract runs for five years, with options to renew for up to 15 years.
The contract surprised lawmakers, and Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, wants to cut off funding. The contract has a clause that says the contract will end if lawmakers don't budget money for future years.
Cameron said the Attorney General's office concluded cutting off the contract now through non-appropriation could cause legal problems
"Unfortunately, you'd probably spend as much in legal costs defending that decision, based on the lack of information we have, as you would in paying for the contract, so that didn't seem to be a wise choice," Cameron said. "Our legal counsel impressed upon us that what we really needed to do was make a good-faith effort, gather information, and then make appropriate decisions down the road."
Other lawmakers argued against letting schools opt out of the contract.
"They voluntarily opted in. They said they were willing to work with the state," said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. "They all said, 'This is what we want.' I believe that in good faith the state put forth the contract, the districts opted in, and it is important to keep that contract."
Luna said the decision by lawmakers was "good news" because it meant the state supported wireless networks in every high school, which was his goal from the start.
Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com