Florida’s most impoverished schools will get more than $80 million to buy computers, software, and other educational technology services as part of the settlement of antitrust lawsuits against software giant Microsoft Corp., Education Commissioner John Winn said Aug. 17.

As part of the 2003 settlement, Microsoft agreed to donate half of any unclaimed benefits to Florida schools in which at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The qualifying schools will get vouchers that can be used to receive reimbursements for purchases of any manufacturer’s computers running any operating system, as well as software used with those products.

“These funds give Florida a unique opportunity to bolster and expand technology use for students,” said Winn, who made the announcement at Tallahassee’s Griffin Middle School.

With its announcement, Florida becomes at least the fifth state–California, Minnesota, Montana, and Vermont are among the others–whose schools have begun to, or soon will, 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 firm. 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.

Florida education officials estimate 1,790 schools with more than 1.1 million students will be eligible for vouchers. Half the money must be used for software, and the other half for hardware and other services–including curriculum development, training, and supplemental services for school administrators.

Microsoft was accused in class-action lawsuits of violating Florida antitrust laws through anticompetitive practices that increased the prices of its products purchased from Nov. 16, 1995, through Dec. 31, 2002. Those products included licenses for Microsoft’s MS-DOS, Windows, Word, Excel, and Office software.

Microsoft denied the allegations but agreed in the Florida case to settle for a maximum of $202 million. Florida consumers and businesses received vouchers to purchase computer hardware and software, regardless of brand, if they had purchased the Microsoft items covered by the agreement. Those vouchers were worth $5 or $12, depending on the license purchased.

Last month, in what was the largest amount to date, California education officials announced that schools in that state would be eligible for between $400 million and $600 million in funding from California’s antitrust settlement with Microsoft (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=6456).

Florida’s announcement on Aug. 17 brings the tally for schools so far to nearly $750 million–with many more states still to announce their settlement figures.

Links:

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

Florida Department of Education
http://www.firn.edu/doe