What did the Idaho Education Network failure really cost?

Earlier this week, when I wrote about the latest (and maybe last) settlement in the Idaho Education Network debacle, I tried to assess the impact on the state’s bottom line.

I reported that the contract collapse wound up costing taxpayers about $21.8 million — money spent to keep the high school broadband system from going dark, settling with project vendors and the feds and paying the lawyers on both sides of the case.

I felt good about my math. But that same day, Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press pegged the cost of the failed project at upwards of $40 million.

Boone is one of the finest and most thorough reporters we have covering Idaho state government, so her story prompted me to relook at my numbers.

I think both numbers are accurate. But Boone’s numbers are more complete.

Boone says the state paid upwards of $30 million on the system, plus what the state paid school districts to cover replacement Internet connections.

That checks out. The state had paid Idaho Education Network vendors $29.7 million on the project through November 2014, when Ada County District Judge Patrick Owen voided the project contract.

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Calling this a failed $40 million project is accurate, and more all-encompassing than my $21.8 million figure.

I do think the $21.8 million figure accurately tallies up the costs the state incurred after the Idaho Education Network contract imploded. And state taxpayer dollars cover all of these bailouts, settlements and legal fees. (Operating costs are a mishmash. Some money came from the 2009 federal economic stimulus act, a J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation grant, and federal “e-Rate” dollars. Some taxpayer money also is in the mix, and that’s significant.)

So this much is clear. The Idaho Education Network was a costly fiasco. Especially when you remember the project was billed as a freebie. When the 2008 Legislature signed on, lawmakers were told the project would require no taxpayer money.

That certainly didn’t pan out — no matter how you do the math.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

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