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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 said.

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.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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