Posted by Rich Wallis
Deputy General Counsel
Hundreds of public schools in Iowa will soon begin receiving approximately $60 million for education technology as part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft in the state. Schools with a high percentage of students coming from low-income families are eligible to receive the funds, a provision Microsoft specifically negotiated to help bridge the technology gap that exists for low-income students.
This is a positive resolution of competition law concerns first raised in the 1990s. When we began settlement discussions in these cases several years ago, we sought to structure each settlement to support education. Microsoft has long worked to bridge the “digital divide” between those students and teachers who have access to the latest technology, and those who do not. Beginning with the earliest antitrust class-action settlements, such as Montana in 2003, we pushed to provide a significant portion of unclaimed proceeds to benefit schools serving students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. When the case in Iowa reached a point where settlement was possible, we insisted on the same basic structure. As part of this approach to settling antitrust class-action claims, Microsoft has provided over $600 million in technology vouchers to schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia over the past six years.
Over the coming weeks, Microsoft will work with the settlement claims administrator and the Iowa Department of Education to implement the program. Approximately 75 percent of Iowa’s public schools qualify. The funds will be distributed in the form of vouchers, which can be redeemed for cash to reimburse schools for their purchase of a wide variety of computer hardware and software products, including both Microsoft and non-Microsoft products. Vouchers can also be used to reimburse schools for certain professional development training and IT support services. Eligible schools will receive detailed information regarding the specific amounts available to them and the process for reimbursement.
The settlement vouchers are intended to supplement, not supplant, current school technology budgets. Likewise, Microsoft’s obligations under this settlement are undertaken in addition to our existing corporate charitable giving, and do not displace any of that giving.
Given the current tough economic climate, Microsoft is happy to provide such a meaningful contribution to improve technology at needy schools throughout Iowa. Microsoft is confident these vouchers will go far in helping Iowa schools, and school children, benefit from technology and reach their full potential.