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JFAC co-chairs question why statewide high school WiFi contract even needed

Some lawmakers are questioning why a statewide contract would even be needed to install WiFi at Idaho high schools, rather than just giving the money to local school districts and letting them hire local providers to put in their wireless systems, which the districts then would own. “It puts the state in the position of competing with local service providers,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “Maybe that’s just my philosophical difference, but I’m not sure that’s the role the state should play. What’s good for Castleford may not be what’s best for Blaine school district, or vice versa.”

House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “That could mean that Filer goes out and gets Project Mutual, that could mean that Rupert goes out and gets somebody.That money could have been put out. I am just really surprised, and it troubles me, because that $2.25 million is not enough money to make this type of an assumption on. It’s not a fortune.” She added, “If one of these people wants to contract with the state, it would appear to me that somewhere or other the state would own the equipment – after all, you don’t jerk equipment out of school districts, No. 1, and No. 2, they would certainly have to go year-by-year on funding. Everything else runs with the yearly budget.”

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said, “This is the most cost-efficient way to pursue these types of contracts. There is always a clause in the contract to ensure future years are subject to funding from the Legislature.”

Cameron said there were several messages from Idaho voters’ rejection of the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which included a giant statewide contract to provide laptop computers to every Idaho high school student. “I think one of them was that they didn’t want this top-down, all-inclusive approach from the state department, who appears to know best or think they know best,” he said. “The Legislature agreed this session that it should be locally driven decisions on technology, who the vendors are, etc.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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