A total of 135 Vermont schools will share $4.7 million in computers and equipment in a settlement of a class-action lawsuit between Vermont consumers and Microsoft Corp.

The state is expected to start distributing vouchers to the eligible public schools this week.

“I’m very pleased to have funding go to our schools,” Education Commissioner Richard Cate said July 10. “In Vermont, $4.7 million is a pretty good amount of money.”

Vermont is at least the third state–Montana and Minnesota are among the others–whose schools have begun to collect on a series of high-profile antitrust settlements with Microsoft. In total, 15 states and the District of Columbia entered into settlements with the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. The settlements end a series of class-action lawsuits, in which U.S. customers and businesses claimed Microsoft was violating antitrust laws by overcharging for its Windows operating system and its Excel and Word software programs. Microsoft denied the allegations, saying the prices on its products had dropped.

As part of these agreements, customers were to receive vouchers from the company that would allow them to purchase new software and hardware products of their choice, from any vendor. Though each state has a slightly different agreement, the consensus was that a large portion of any unclaimed vouchers–as much as two-thirds in some places–would be distributed to schools to upgrade aging technology components. The rest would be returned to Microsoft.

Under the terms of Vermont’s 2004 settlement, consumers and businesses that purchased certain Microsoft products between March 31, 1995, and Dec. 31, 2002, could apply for a reimbursement voucher to buy computer hardware and software and other technology from any manufacturer. Microsoft agreed to pay as much as $9.7 million in vouchers to consumers and schools across the state.

The vouchers are available to Vermont schools in which at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. The value of the vouchers is based on enrollment and ranges from $1,500 for the Granville school to $168,000 for Brattleboro Union High School.

Apart from the settlements, a Microsoft spokesman told the Associated Press, similar cases now have been dismissed in 13 states, while a handful of cases are still pending.

Links:

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

Microsoft Legal Newsroom
http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/legalnews.mspx