Schools get millions from Microsoft settlement
By Anna Molin, Bay City News Service
July 27, 2006
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell announced
yesterday that up to $600 million from a $1.1 billion antitrust
class action settlement against Microsoft could be made available
to public schools serving disadvantaged students.
Some $400 million would go toward improving technological resources
at hundreds of schools attended by at least 40 percent economically
disadvantaged students who qualify for free or reduced-price school
meals, O'Connell said.
"Technology in the classroom can be used strategically to
improve student achievement and help prepare our students for
success in the competitive global economy of the 21st Century,"
O'Connell said. "This settlement agreement provides a wonderful
opportunity to close the digital divide in many of our schools.
I encourage all eligible schools to work with their district offices
as they apply for funds."
Microsoft and Townsend and Townsend and Crew, the law firm representing
the plaintiffs, agreed two years ago that two-thirds of the proceeds
not claimed by California consumers and businesses would benefit
public schools while the remainder of the unclaimed funds would
go back to Microsoft, law firm partner Richard Grossman said yesterday.
Allocations of funds stalled until now, however, because of a
long court battle against a single class action member who declined
to make a claim for his share but objected to the donation of
any portion of his unclaimed benefits to public schools. That
plaintiff failed to meet a third appeals deadline last week, freeing
up the proceeds for distribution.
Vouchers awarded schools that qualify and reside in districts
with state-approved technology plans could be used to purchase
computer hardware, software, networks, maintenance equipment and
technology infrastructure as well as to further the development
of teachers, O'Connell said.
Grossman added that schools would be able to choose how they
apply the benefits, including whether students should be able
to borrow school laptops for homework.
"We wanted to leave it up to the experts ... to design a
system that would work for their local population," Grossman
O'Connell said the proceeds come at a critical time when federal
funding for state schools has been cut by 30 and 45 percent for
two consecutive years.
"Many are questioning whether any funding will be in the
federal budget for next year, O'Connell said.
Funding shortages make it difficult for local schools to offer
students the latest technology, which in turn hurts students in
low-income families the most because they tend to lack computer
access at home more than affluent children, O'Connell said.
"We're very pleased that the settlement will benefit over
3 million students in California," Microsoft spokesman Martin
Pastula said yesterday.
The exact amount that each district, including school districts
in the Bay Area, will receive won't be known until all consumer
and business complaints are processed and the school districts
apply. On average, however, schools could expect between $98 and
$159 per pupil, O'Connell said.
Applications will be available online at the state Education
Department's Web site starting mid-September. The vouchers must
be redeemed within six years.
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