State lawmakers became upset when Education Networks of America (ENA) was awarded a multi-year contract to supply Idaho high schools with Wi-Fi, even though funds had been appropriated for only one year.
Legislation was approved in the recent session for the state to pursue wireless for schools with grades nine through 12. The Department of Education of the State of Idaho then released a request for proposal on May 29, 2013, which called for a fixed price for the first five years of $2.25 million, and 5 percent increases every five years after that, totaling $35.47 million.
“We awarded a multi-year contract so we could provide the needed maintenance and to get the best price,” said Melissa McGrath, spokesperson, Department of Education. “Any time we sign a multi-year contract, it is contingent upon appropriation of funds every single year. Both the state and the vendor are aware that it can be canceled at any time if the state decides not to provide funding.”
McGrath said the process must change when legislation earmarks single-year appropriations for multi-year projects.
“Going forward, any time the state has to sign a multi-year contract as the result of language in legislation, the law needs to be much clearer so that both the state and the legislature better understand the path going forward,” she said. “We need to be on the same page. Clearly, there was some confusion, and we understand that.”
Work began in late July with the Wi-Fi service scheduled to be fully deployed in all Idaho schools by March 15, 2014. The RFP requires a fully managed wireless service, including content filtering, event logging, system implementation, user reporting and deployment management. The RFP also requires provision of 802.11X coverage (at a minimum a/b/g/n/and ac/ad when available), with the newest standards available at the time of award and periodic upgrades to the most current standards on a rotational basis once every 60 months or sooner.
It is not known how many systems will be deployed, but more than 110 school districts and public charter schools have decided to opt in for the state-provided Wi-Fi at this time. Wi-Fi systems have been deployed at two schools so far, and site surveys have been completed at four more.
“School systems have been asking for Wi-Fi from the state for years. A rural education task force met in 2008, and one of their recommendations was for the state to close the technology gap between rural and urban school districts,” McGrath said. “Schools want wireless because they are beginning to purchase tablets and laptops and are moving to a more mobile technology experience in the classroom.”