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32 Idaho school districts make student laptop list

Tue., June 5, 2012, 12:08 p.m.

BOISE — A mix of large and small school districts will be first in line when Idaho starts providing laptop computers for every ninth- through 12th-grader next year, according to a list obtained today by The Associated Press.

The state Department of Education selected 32 districts, allowing up to 47 high schools to participate when the laptops start going to students in 2013 under reforms championed by public schools chief Tom Luna.

The list includes big districts like Meridian and Boise in southwest Idaho, though they’ll be limited on how many high schools can participate. Tiny school districts such as Culdesac in the north and Kimberly in the south also made the cut, as did two charter schools.

The two charter schools selected are the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy and Idaho Distance Education Academy.

The laptops will first go to every high school teacher this fall.

Idaho has yet to select the device that will be deployed into high school classrooms statewide. A May 25 deadline for computer vendors to submit bids to the state’s Division of Purchasing has been extended until Monday.

Under Luna’s reforms, Idaho is also becoming the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate.

The sweeping changes, which also limited collective bargaining talks while introducing teacher merit pay, were approved by state lawmakers in 2011 and targeted by critics, who were successful in getting a repeal initiative on the November ballot.

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, Education Department officials have said.

The laptops are one of the most visible pieces of Luna’s Students Come First plan.

While the devices are expected to be deployed to one-third of students each year, reaching all high schools over the course of three years, Luna said he may ask the Idaho Legislature to shorten that timeline to two years.

“If the money is there, you may see us pursue in the next legislative session to speed up the deployment,” said Luna, who envisions the first third getting their laptops in 2013, and the remainder being added in 2014.

More than 170 high schools serving 68,000 students wanted to be part of the first batch, according to the state Department of Education. The program will be limited, however, to roughly 27,000 students in its first year.

Districts that wanted to be part of the first group were asked to submit an application to the state Department of Education that included a five-page, double-spaced essay on their plans for the devices. The applications were ranked, and then scored again based on region.

With only a certain number of devices to be deployed in the first year, Luna said the formula aimed to provide some balance across the state, so that the computers weren’t concentrated in any one area.

“We didn’t want them to be gobbled up by the ones in the large urban areas,” Luna said.

Of the school districts chosen, Meridian will be able to choose five of its high schools to participate while Boise will be limited to three. Districts allowed to each choose two high schools include Emmett, Kuna, Melba, Vallivue, Cassia, Minidoka, Oneida, Fremont and Idaho Falls.

The remaining districts, which will each have one participating high school, are: Coeur d’Alene, Lakeland, Cottonwood, Culdesac, Genesee, Highland, Lewiston, Homedale, Middleton, Notus, Kimberly, Bear Lake, Grace, North Gem, Pocatello, Soda Springs, West Side, Bonneville, and the Sugar-Salem district.

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