In what is by far the largest settlement amount to date, California schools will be eligible for $400 million to $600 million in educational technology funding left over from the settlement of a price-gouging lawsuit against the world’s largest computer software maker, state officials announced July 26.

The good news for California’s schools bodes well for the rest of the nation. As of press time, schools in as many as 11 other states (plus the District of Columbia) were still waiting to hear what their own settlement shares would be.

The money is part of a class-action antitrust suit against Microsoft Corp., which set up a $1.1 billion fund for California consumers and businesses in 2004 after settling a suit alleging the software maker abused its power in the computer industry to inflate prices.

The deal allows two-thirds of the unclaimed funds to go to public schools with high ratios of poor students–where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the state Department of Education said July 26. The rest will be returned to Microsoft.

“This settlement’s funding comes at a critical time,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. He said federal ed-tech funding was cut 30 percent last year and another 45 percent this year. “Many are questioning whether any funding will be in the federal budget next year.”

The exact amount of the settlement won’t be known until all the consumer claims on the fund are processed. On average, however, schools could expect between $98 and $159 per pupil, O’Connell said.

Qualifying schools can apply to the department for the money, which is to be used for computer hardware or software from any manufacturer, technology maintenance, and professional tech development, O’Connell said.

Applications will be available online at the state Education Department’s web site starting in mid-September. The vouchers must be redeemed within six years, and local school leaders can determine how they will spend the money.

California is at least the fourth state–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 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.

Earlier in July, Vermont officials began distributing $4.7 million in technology vouchers to 135 schools as part of that state’s settlement.