Members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee appear much taken aback this morning at the request for $14.45 million to bail out the Idaho Education Network, the broadband service run by contractor Education Networks of America that provides broadband connections to every Idaho high school. The state Department of Administration is proposing expanding the network next year to elementary and middle schools as well, with another $3.5 million state investment. Federal “e-rate” funds that were supposed to pay for much of the costs over the past year never arrived; the state is proposing the additional state funding to pay the contractors to make that up.
“This is a very interesting development,” said Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow. “Are there other relationships with the federal government that might be at risk here? Because this sounds very mysterious to me.”
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I’m very, very concerned with the sense of urgency and the timing ... particularly when we have such a large amount of money at stake.”
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “I’m struggling because what we’re being asked to do on behalf of the taxpayers of Idaho is to fund an obligation or a partnership that existed with the federal government on e-rate funding ... and many school districts had their own e-rate relationship before we established the IEN. So the state disrupted a previous relationship with many of our school districts on e-rate funding. We built the IEN and it’s been a marvelous tool, but now, because of this lawsuit dragging on, that funding is in jeopardy. The ability to move forward into expansion that has great support into elementary and middle schools is in jeopardy, because I’m not sure how fiduciarily we can move forward when we don’t know if our federal partners are going to be involved.”
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “I think I agree with Sen. Mortimer that we’re at a state where a nose-to-nose meeting is in order.”