In the past, the public schools budget included just six divisions. This year, a seventh division has been added: Central Services. Moved into that division are items for which the state Department of Education is granted funds to secure services centrally for Idaho school districts, including the statewide contract for high school WiFi networks and the funding for an instructional management system, which now includes the Schoolnet program. The idea is to provide more transparency in the budget-setting process for those items; last year, lawmakers were stunned when the State Department of Education signed a five- to 15-year contract with Education Networks of America for WiFi networks in every high school in the state. They had granted the department only a one-time, $2.25 million appropriation for WiFi networks in high schools, and didn’t expect a long-term contract to be signed.
How to proceed on that in the future is a matter that’s still being hotly debated; that division is up next this morning. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, favors ending the WiFi contract through non-appropriation – every state contract contains a clause saying if lawmakers don’t appropriate funds for another year, the contract is void. But some JFAC members worry that if they cut off the contract, but still send money to school districts for their own WiFi networks, the state could end up legally on the hook for both.
An Idaho Attorney General’s office analysis distributed to JFAC members this morning says if the contract is ended through non-appropriation, ENA is required to remove all of its equipment from Idaho schools. The department could waive that, however, or negotiate a buyout of some of the equipment. The analysis also warned that if the state wants to end the contract through non-appropriation, it shouldn’t allocate any money to the department for wireless networks – just to local school districts – to avoid liability for continuing the contract.