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Mon., April 16, 2012, 5:04 p.m.

AP: Idaho now taking bids on laptop computers for every high school student

Idaho is now taking bids on the contract to provide every high school student and teacher in the state with a laptop computer, as part of its "Students Come First" school reforms. That AP reports that computer manufacturers have until May 25 to submit their pitches, and the state is looking for devices that weigh 6 pounds or less, have at least a 12-inch screen and a physical keyboard, and are durable enough to withstand the occasional spill, according to the request for proposals; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. The state estimates the first five years of the phased-in laptop program will cost $60 million, if voters don't overturn the reform law in a November referendum.

Idaho kicks off school laptop bidding process
By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho has started accepting bids for a contract to provide every high school student and teacher with a laptop, or similar device.

The state is giving computer manufacturers until May 25 to submit their pitches, according to a request for proposals issued by Idaho's Division of Purchasing. The 85-page document was obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

Idaho is phasing in the laptops while also becoming the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate. The changes were approved last year as part of a reform package authored by public schools chief Tom Luna.

A task force created to help implement Luna's technology changes recommended the computer device come in the form of a laptop. That recommendation is mentioned, but not a requirement in the request for proposals sent out last Wednesday.

The document includes a description of what should be in the device. The state Department of Education prefers it weigh 6 pounds or less, have at least a 12-inch screen, and be durable enough to withstand the occasional spill, according to the request for proposals.

The device also must have a physical keyboard, a requirement that falls in line with the findings of Luna's task force. The group determined computer tablets, such as iPads, work best in younger grades, while high school students do better with a fully-functioning keyboard.

"The task force recommended the state deploy laptop devices to high school students, therefore, the goal of the RFP is to describe a laptop device, or similar devices that would best meet student needs," said state Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath.

Teachers will get the devices this fall along with training, while students will be included in 2013, with one-third of high schools added per year. Luna's office estimates the first five years of the laptop program will cost roughly $60 million.

The proposals submitted by computer companies vying for Idaho's contract will be reviewed by a committee made up of public employees, including officials from state agencies and school districts. The state will also conduct interviews with each applicant.

But the proposed deal comes with a caveat: The education laws face a test at the ballot box in November.

Opponents gathered enough signatures last year to put three measures on the ballot that, if approved, would overturn some of the biggest changes to Idaho's public education system in decades. Luna's reforms, along with the new classroom technology, limited collective bargaining talks to pay and benefits, nixed teacher tenure and last year shifted funding away from salaries to help pay for the education changes.

Idaho also introduced a teacher merit pay plan, under Luna's changes.

Voters will be asked to approve or reject the legislation, which provides funding for the computer devices. In the request for proposals from computer companies, the state offers this warning: "The results of this referendum could affect funding for the Mobile Computing Initiative."

The state Department of Education has previously indicated that teachers who receive laptops this fall may have to return the devices if the referendum succeeds. That's because the technology and merit pay funding would likely be redirected into a rainy day account for public education, officials have said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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