About 6,500 Idaho high school teachers are scheduled to get laptops this fall as part of the state’s Students Come First education laws. All the state's high school students will then get computers over the next few years. But the state still doesn’t know who will provide all that hardware along with the training and maintenance. Last week the state had to change its tactics for finding a provider after it failed to get enough qualified bidders.
Three companies responded to Idaho’s request for bids. Only one met all requirements and then had to be dismissed for lack of competition. But many big name companies have been interested in the job since 2011 when Idaho passed the Students Come First laws. Apple, Lenovo, Century Link and others have all expressed interest. One popular theory why companies shied away from submitting proposals: the laws that make the computers (and the $60 million to buy them) possible are up for voter repeal in November. Melissa McGrath with the state Department of Education says she’s heard that theory.
“It’s a possibility, it’s a definite possibility," she says. "That is speculation that’s out there but I can’t confirm it.”
McGrath’s department is forbidden to speak to potential venders during this stage in the game. That falls to the Division of Purchasing. That’s Bill Burns’ domain. Burns says he can’t say if the November vote scared companies out of responding to the request for proposal, or RFP, but whoever read it would be aware the job could be voted away.
“There’s probably at least two or three places in that RFP where that November issue is referenced so it would be on their mind," he says.
Now the division of purchasing switches to direct negotiation. That means the state probably won’t get everything it wants. Companies can now haggle over things like what happens if the laws are overturned. But Burns says he’s confident his division will get a good deal for the state and do it in time for teachers to get computers in a few months.
“It’s amazing how the companies are coming back in," Burns says. "They are lined up for it right now.”
He says he can’t reveal any of the company’s names, but he says many of the same ones who were interested before the RFP are back.