At least $14.45 million in technology funding for Idaho schools is in limbo, and both the Senate Education Committee and the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee want some answers. Teresa Luna, Director of the Idaho’s Department of Administration, requested $14.45 million from state coffers last week for the IEN broadband program that services more than 100 school districts in Idaho. She also revealed that Idaho’s broadband contractor, Education Networks of America, has not received federal payments for nearly a year. One factor in the delay is an ongoing lawsuit over the broadband contract, which was entered into by Superintendent Tom Luna, although Teresa Luna told the Senate Education Committee on Thursday that the review by USAC (Universal Service Administration Company) is not completely dependent upon the resolution of the lawsuit filed by Syringa Networks.
Teresa Luna claims that the $14.45 million is essentially a bridge loan that will be repaid if/when the state Supreme Court upholds lower court rulings on the lawsuit and the federal funds begin to flow again. In the interim however, it looks like the money could be taken from the $29.3 million that Governor Otter had set aside for the Public Education Stabilization Fund, unless JFAC finds another solution. That shortfall could make JFAC more hesitant to restore operational funding for public education and/or provide a modest increase in teacher compensation. Teresa Luna told the Senate Education Committee that IEN would have to shut down if state money is not allocated to replace the USAC funds currently being withheld.
It was also revealed during Thursday’s Senate Education Committee session that USAC could potentially seek reimbursement of some $13.5 million in payments made to Idaho since 2009. Teresa told the committee that she had anticipated a response from USAC within a 60 day time frame, which expired on December 23, 2013. However, Idaho’s Department of Administration has had no communication from USAC since September 23, 2013 and has no indication of when a determination on the status of federal funding might be made.
JFAC has not yet scheduled a hearing on the IEN budget request, with co-chairman Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and other members wanting more information before moving forward.