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Hewlett-Packard wins $180M laptop contract
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State officials on Tuesday awarded an eight-year, $180 million contract to Hewlett-Packard Co. to provide Idaho high school students and teachers with laptop computers as part of the Students Come First education overhaul.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Public Schools Superintendent Tom Luna announced Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard as the winning vendor at an event on the company's campus in Boise. The company submitted the lowest bid — providing HP ProBook laptops, software, security and support for $249 per student — in a process involving four other companies.

The contract and the plan for equipping students and teachers with laptops could be undone if voters in two weeks decide to reject Proposition 3. The technology initiative, along with referendums on teacher merit pay and limits on teacher union bargaining, each face voter approval Nov. 6.

Otter and Luna said Tuesday the computers are critical to their vision for transforming high school classrooms across the state, improving student access to educational opportunities, preparing students for the future and fulfilling a new online course mandate.

Under the contract, about 6,600 computers with 14-inch screens and batteries designed to last the entire school day are due to be handed out to all high school instructors and administrators early next year. The state will then distribute the machines to one-third of the state's high school students next fall. Another one-third will get computers in 2014, and the final third in 2015.

Otter lauded the choice of Hewlett-Packard — which has had offices in Boise for 38 years — and taking another step forward in the education overhaul approved by the 2011 Legislature.

"If we use yesterday's education system for today's children, we deny them the promise of tomorrow," the Republican governor said.

The big contract between the State Department of Education and HP also covers work to outfit schools with wireless networks, distributing the mobile devices to students and teachers, monitoring and maintaining the system and devices, and training teachers and staff on the devices and the software available for learning.

State officials who managed the bidding said the total cost per student breaks down to about $300, including the price of professional training and expanding the wireless network.

Bill Burns, with the Department of Administration, declined to identify the other companies competing for the contract, but said Hewlett-Packard came in with the lowest bid.

The process for picking a winning vendor was delayed for several months due to complications in the bidding process. Initially, state education officials hoped to have the first batch of laptops in teachers' hands this fall.

Luna acknowledged the fate of the computer contract with Hewlett-Packard depends on voters approving Proposition 3, but he said it's still an important step in the process of arming students and teachers with modern technology. He also vowed to continue pursuing his commitment to integrating technology into the classroom if Proposition 3 fails at the ballot box.

"Idaho is finally on a path to providing equal access to the best educational opportunities to every student, no matter where a child lives in our great state," Luna said. "This train has left the station when it comes to transforming our schools and the 21st century learning opportunity. We'll see what happens on Election Day, but it's not going to stop the transformation that's happening," Luna said.

Ken Burgess, a Boise-based lobbyist helping lead the Yes for Education campaign promoting Luna's education overhaul, expects the contract announcement could help bolster his side's cause, because people now have more tangible evidence of what the changes could mean for students.

"In addition, we know what the costs will be," Burgess said. "The fact that we're getting those computers for $300 a teacher and student is, at least from what I know, a pretty good deal."

Brian Cronin, who is leading the push against the education overhaul, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Under the contract, Hewlett-Packard is responsible for infusing new laptops into the schools every four years and any repair services. But other companies are involved with providing training to teachers, building wireless networks in schools and software and technical support.