The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee voted to continue funding the financially-troubled Idaho Education Network through the end of June, 2014, but held off on funding the project for the next school year. JFAC unanimously approved $6.6 million in payments to IEN contractor Education Networks of America, which has threatened to cut off IEN services if payments were not brought up to date.
School districts around the state, particularly those in rural areas, have praised the connectivity and capabilities of IEN. However, federal funding that was expected to cover three-fourths of the project’s cost has been held up for almost a year. Idaho Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna informed JFAC of the funding problems on January 30, 2014 when she requested $14.45 million to keep IEN afloat through 2014-2015. The Federal Communications Commission has been withholding payments on IEN while they investigate the legality of the contracts struck between the state of Idaho and IEN technology providers.
Members of JFAC agreed that IEN provides a vital service to teachers and students in the state, and stressed that today’s action was to assure that those who rely on IEN are not penalized because of political and administrative shortcomings. In approving $6.6 million today, JFAC also demanded that immediate notification be given if/when federal funding resumes.
IEN funding beyond this June has been left for future consideration, and re-bidding the contract is also being discussed. If the FCC finds that the IEN contracts are illegal, Idaho could be on the hook for the reimbursement of $7.5 million in federal payments already made to ENA. Luna has told legislators that she expects the issue to be resolved and FCC dollars to begin flowing again, but had little guidance on the timetable for that development.