School districts across Idaho are weighing whether they want to continue with or sign on to a statewide contract for WiFi at every high school in the state, or set up their own WiFi networks with state funding that lawmakers approved this year. “We were not real happy that we had entered into a multi-year contract with one-time money, so we wanted to give the districts an opportunity to really choose,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, following a JFAC discussion today. “It’ll be interesting to see how they choose.” Last year, lawmakers allocated funding to start paying for high school WiFi; state schools Superintendent Tom Luna relied on that to sign a five- to 15-year contract with Education Networks of America to put WiFi in at every high school in the state. This year, JFAC gave school districts the option of joining that contract or getting funding for their own networks.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee heard from tech officials from two school districts – Bonneville and Boise – both of whom said they’re weighing their options. Scott Woolstenhulme of the Bonneville School District said it would cost his school district about $180,000 to replace what it’s getting from the state contract with Education Networks of America, and the district would qualify for about $65,000 a year in state funding. The advantage, he said, is that in three years, that could all be replaced and the district could start adding WiFi networks at its middle and elementary schools, where it has none.
David Roberts of the Boise School District said it’d cost his district about $345,000 to replace the contracted WiFi. “We could get about half of that if we opted out,” he said. Joyce Popp, chief information officer for the State Department of Education, said the department is working to get information to all school districts about the choices available to them. “We let people know that they had choices,” she said.
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “It’s a fascinating policy question that needs a lot of attention. I’m very appreciative of how we’re getting feedback from the districts.” Cameron said he’s been hearing that some districts think the state contract may have more stable funding than the direct funding to districts who don’t take part in the contract, but that’s not the case. “I believe they’re both on equal footing,” he said.