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Saturday, March 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Fifteen Idaho schools will share $3 million in technology grants

Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, accepts a $250,000 technology grant for the school on Monday in Boise. (Betsy Russell)
Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, accepts a $250,000 technology grant for the school on Monday in Boise. (Betsy Russell)

BOISE – Students and their teachers in grades six through 12 at a Sandpoint charter school will get laptop computers, and special education classes at the school will have iPads for use as a result of state technology grants announced Monday.

Forrest M. Bird Charter School was one of 15 schools across Idaho to qualify for a share of $3 million in grants for tech pilot projects for the coming year, nabbing $317,516 that also will cover training, project presentation systems and more. But outgoing state schools Superintendent Tom Luna noted that 99 schools applied for the grants, and if they’d all gotten what they sought, the total would have been more than $26 million.

This is the second year of the pilot technology grants; 11 schools shared in $3 million worth of grants last year.

Many of the successful grant applicants plan to use the money to provide every student with a high-tech device, whether it’s a Chromebook, an iPad, a laptop computer or a combination of school-provided and bring-your-own devices. Luna’s signature Students Come First plan, which voters rejected in 2012, sought in part to provide every high school teacher and student in the state with a laptop computer.

Luna noted that the technology already has changed significantly since he made his proposal. “I still believe that there has to be a statewide solution, or we just create winners and losers,” he said.

But he said that could take a variety of forms, from providing more per-student funding to school districts for technology to offering several state-level contracts that districts could access at their option to take advantage of economies of scale. “This demand is not going to go away, whether I’m here or anyone else is here,” said Luna, who is leaving office when his second term ends at the end of the year.

Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, said her school will use its $250,000 grant to “gamefy” learning by allowing students to work individually and earn digital badges when they move up to higher levels; the gaming will revolve around the Idaho Core Standards and include reading, writing and math, with options both for those who struggle and for advanced learners. The project includes Chromebooks and accessories.

“We’re just thrilled to pieces,” Baker said. “We know that we have to do something different for kids.”

Also in Post Falls, Mullan Trail Elementary will get a $204,465 grant to install and enhance Wi-Fi and network infrastructure and purchase Chromebooks, tablets, management systems and accessories, all aimed at turning the elementary school into a “Google School,” where students and teachers can interact as they work.

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