Members of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to provide up to $4.8 million to the Department of Administration to offset a portion of the funding needed to keep the Idaho Education Network operating, at least through February 2015. The amount the approved is $2.5 million shy of the request made by the Department.
In the early days of this legislative session, lawmakers discovered that the federal government ceased sending Idaho its e-rate funds in August 2013, after the Idaho Supreme Court issued a ruling last March that raised serious questions about whether the Idaho Department of Administration had illegally awarded a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract with Education Networks of America and CenturyLink to provide the network. The feds are now investigating the issue.
Members of the Senate Education Committee learned earlier this week that if the federal government decides Idaho did improperly award the contract to ENA, Idaho would be required to pay back the $13.3 million in federal e-rate funds it’s already received, and it could be denied any future funding.
Issues surrounding IEN have frustrated lawmakers this session. On the heels of the federal e-rate funding issue, it was also revealed in February that the Department extended the ENA contract through 2019 – a full year early – without notifying lawmakers.
According to Senate Finance Chair Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) the hope is that by February, the issue would be resolved and the federal funds released. Today’s JFAC action will keep the IEN in service until then and allow lawmakers time next January to review the matter and determine next steps.
In addition to the partial funding decision, JFAC’s action will require that a service audit be conducted to determine the depth and breadth of additional educational services provided by the IEN.