Lawmakers delve into $61.5 million Schoolnet costs

State taxpayers footed nearly two-thirds of the $61.5 million bill for Schoolnet — a beleaguered statewide student data system that may end up in mothballs.

And about $34 million of the state money was redirected from technology and teacher professional development programs in 2011, as part of then-state superintendent Tom Luna’s short-lived Proposition 3 school technology law.

On Wednesday, lawmakers heard a more detailed report on Schoolnet, a multimillion dollar attempt to install a statewide instructional management system. The new Office of Performance Evaluations presentation restated the concerns auditors first raised in a March 23 Schoolnet presentation: The problems with Schoolnet were avoidable and were rooted in decisions Luna’s State Department of Education made before even selecting a contractor for the system.

This time around, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee got a breakdown of the $61.5 million figure, first in a sharply critical OPE report on Schoolnet:

Software: The first $13.1 million went to purchase the software itself, through a pair of contracts with Pearson Education Inc. The bulk of this money came from $8.1 million in J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation grants. The state kicked in nearly $3.5 million and a federal grant accounted for the remaining $1.5 million.

Support: The state earmarked $10.8 million for a variety of programs: digital content, teacher training, curriculum and testing and grants to districts. All of these purchases were designed to support the Schoolnet project, said Lance McCleve of the OPE. A little less than $2 million of this money came from the state; the rest came from $8.8 million in Albertson Foundation grants.

Funding commitments: Beyond these two areas — which McCleve described as the core of Schoolnet purchases — the state put another $37.6 million in underlying programs. The bulk of this $37.6 million, $35.1 million, came from state taxpayers; Albertson Foundation grants covered the balance.

These underlying purchases came largely from $25 million in technology grants and $9 million in professional development money. The State Department of Education redirected this money in 2011, after lawmakers passed the law that became known as Proposition 3.

This money was redirected, said McCleve, in order to secure a grant from the Albertson Foundation, which had rejected funding Schoolnet on two separate occasions in 2010. After the passage of the Luna education overhauls, the foundation awarded Schoolnet a grant in May 2011.

The Albertson Foundation declined comment on the report Wednesday.

The technology grant program was in place before the state started the Schoolnet project. And it’s possible, said McCleve, that the state would have been spending this technology and professional development money even if it had never pursued the Schoolnet project.

Rusche New
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston

Schoolnet had been touted as a way of allowing teachers to apply student data to tailor lesson plans and improve academic performance. But the concept of a statewide instructional management system was flawed, according to the OPE report. New state superintendent Sherri Ybarra wants the state to phase out funding of a statewide Schoolnet system, while freeing up money to allow districts to buy their own systems.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, a JLOC member, questioned the decision to pursue a statewide system, suggesting the state was simply motivated to pursue private and federal grants.

“When you don’t know where you going, you certainly end up there,” he said.

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