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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Senate unanimously backs school broadband stopgap funding, sends to guv

The Senate has voted unanimously, 33-0, in favor of HB 168, the stopgap funding bill for school broadband services in the wake of the Idaho Education Network debacle. The bill, which previously passed the House with just one “no” vote, now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.

The measure sends $3.64 million to state Superintendent of Schools Sherri Ybarra to distribute to school districts, either as reimbursements or advances, to pay for broadband internet service for the rest of the current school year. It also pulls $5 million back from the state Department of Administration in unspent funding for the Idaho Education Network, for which a court has declared the state’s $60 million contract with two politically connected vendors illegal.

“The bill does not address any back payments, attorney fees or potential damages related to the lawsuit between Syringa and the state of Idaho, nor does it address the federal e-rate funds that have been withheld,” Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate. “This is not a situation that any of us thought that we would be in, but we know it is very, very important that we protect the education process and our children’s right to that.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “We are paying for one specific thing, and that is asking the Department of Education to continue to provide broadband service to our schools in a manner that is distinctly different from how it has been provided in the past. I believe this service is important and this is an important step for how to accomplish this.” But, he said, “We are not defining a path forward, which needs to be done. And that is something this body, in conjunction with all the help we can get, needs to be working on. This is a very important step, and I hope you can support this, but there’s more work to do.”

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “This is not the ideal situation, but it is the best situation, our best ability to protect kids, and to protect our school districts so that kids will not be hurt. This only solves for this school year. We need to talk about what we do for next year, and then we need to talk about what the long-range plan is going forward. This provides us … a clean break, allows us to stay within the legal authority that we have.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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