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Low-Income Schools to Get Windfall

Times Staff Writer

California schools could receive hundreds of millions of dollars in school technology funds made available through an antitrust settlement with Microsoft Corp., the state Department of Education announced Wednesday.

More than $400 million will be poured into the education department’s coffers, said Jack O’Connell, State Supt. of Public Instruction. Schools in districts with state-approved technology plans -- and with at least 40% of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, a low-income indicator -- would be eligible for funding.

“The lack of technology in our classrooms hurts students from low-income families the most,” O’Connell said, explaining the criteria. “This settlement is great news for our schools.”

The money could be used for computer hardware or software, technology maintenance and infrastructure, network equipment or professional development, he said.

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The money comes from a $1.1-billion antitrust settlement approved by a Superior Court judge in San Francisco in 2004. Two-thirds of the funds unclaimed by California businesses and consumers were designated for California public schools, said Richard Grossman, one of the lead attorneys in the case against Microsoft.

“This settlement will not only equip California schools ... but will also equip students with the skills they need to succeed in a world that increasingly places a premium on technological literacy,” said Martin Pastula, U.S. justice and public safety manager for Microsoft. He said the company was pleased to see the money directly benefit disadvantaged students.

O’Connell described the settlement agreement as “an important step in closing the digital divide in California schools” -- and a welcome relief after recent cuts in federal funding for educational technology.

“All of these resources will help our schools in their efforts to improve achievement, close the achievement gap” between low-performing Latino and black students and their peers, O’Connell said.

The vouchers will be distributed through the department’s Education Technology K-12 Voucher Program, and must be used within six years of their issuance. The per-pupil voucher amount could range from about $100 to $150, O’Connell said.

The department will put out a request for applications online starting in mid-September, O’Connell said.

Schools could use the funds for a wide range of needs, O’Connell said. “If a school district’s goal is to have a laptop for every student, this funding could be used for that purpose,” he said.

Education officials in the Los Angeles school district and in Orange County said they have long anticipated the funds.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Themy Sparangis, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s chief technology director for educational technology. “We’re going to support the schools in making sure that ... they get the best value out of the vouchers.”

Sparangis said the money could go toward further incorporating technology in instruction -- such as programs that support learning algebra and passing the mandatory high school exit exam.

Nearly half of Orange County’s roughly 590 schools would qualify for vouchers, said Sandra Lapham, administrator of educational technology for the county Department of Education.

“There is always the issue of providing what is needed, of providing equitably, of making sure that the equipment is as current as it can be within the educational setting,” Lapham said. “It’s going to be very well used.”


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