Idaho Soliciting Bids To Equip High Schoolers with Laptops

Idaho has set a May 25th deadline for computer manufacturers to submit proposals for the contract to supply all the state’s high school students with a laptop-type device. The Idaho’s Division of Purchases released the 85-page request for proposals earlier this year. The move to equip all high school students with laptops was one of the package of proposals authored by the state’s public school superintendent Tom Luna. Another of his proposals recently adopted made Idaho the first state to require two online credits for high school graduation.

A task force created to help implement Luna’s technology changes recommended the computer device come in the form of a laptop. That recommendation is mentioned, but not a requirement in the request for proposals sent out last Wednesday.

The document includes a description of what should be in the device. The state Department of Education prefers it weigh 6 pounds or less, have at least a 12-inch screen, and be durable enough to withstand the occasional spill, according to the request for proposals.

The RFP also lists a requirement that all devices have a physical keyboard, which squares with the Luna’s taskforce findings that while tablets work better in earlier grades, school work in middle school and beyond requires a fully-functioning keyboard.

“The task force recommended the state deploy laptop devices to high school students, therefore, the goal of the RFP is to describe a laptop device, or similar devices that would best meet student needs,” said state Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath.

The turnaround on the contract is fairly short. The winner will be expected to provide training machines to teachers this fall, while the students should begin receiving theirs starting next year. A third of the high schools will receive the laptops in 2013, and each subsequent third scheduled to be equipped in 2014 and 2015. The cost of the contract is estimated to be around $60 million.

Opponents gathered enough signatures last year to put three measures on the ballot that, if approved, would overturn some of the biggest changes to Idaho’s public education system in decades. Luna’s reforms, along with the new classroom technology, limited collective bargaining talks to pay and benefits, nixed teacher tenure and last year shifted funding away from salaries to help pay for the education changes.

Earlier this year, the legislature took steps to anticipate the effects on the education reform plans in case the referenda pass. The lawmakers are following the guidelines issued by the attorney general’s office last year when crafting additional education-related laws.