Fla. schools to get $80M from Microsoft antitrust case

Florida’s most impoverished schools will get more than $80 million to buy computers, software, and other technology services as part of the settlement of antitrust lawsuits against 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 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.

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

Former Md. schools chief indicted on fraud charges

The former head of the Prince George’s County, Md., school system was indicted Aug. 22 for allegedly taking kickbacks in return for steering ed-tech contracts to companies, including one that employed his live-in girlfriend.

The 16-count indictment, handed up by a U.S. District Court grand jury, charges Andre J. Hornsby with mail fraud, wire fraud, witness and evidence tampering, and obstruction of justice.

The charges cover two different cases. In one, Hornsby is accused of directing contracts to a former employee for work on eRate projects. Under the second, Hornsby allegedly steered a nearly $1 million contract to educational software company LeapFrog SchoolHouse, where his girlfriend, Sienna Owens, worked.

Prosecutors said in return for his help on the eRate deal, Hornsby, former chief executive officer of the school system, was to receive about $100,000 in property. He also allegedly received half of a $20,000 commission paid to Owens.

Hornsby’s attorney, Robert Bonsib, said Hornsby intends to “aggressively contest these allegations” and that Hornsby was disappointed by the charges. “Dr. Hornsby is confident he will be acquitted,” said Bonsib.

John White, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County school system, said Hornsby is no longer associated with the district, Maryland’s second largest and one of the 20 biggest districts in the nation.

Hornsby, who previously had served as schools chief in Yonkers, N.Y., was hired in 2003 to lead the 135,000-student Prince George’s system.

But federal and state investigators soon began looking into his connections to vendors that provided educational software and other services to the school system.

A report commissioned by the county school board concluded in June 2005 that Hornsby had violated the board’s conflict-of-interest policy, and that he failed to properly disclose an eRate consulting business he ran while holding his $250,000-per-year CEO post. Hornsby denied wrongdoing at the time, but resigned 10 days before the report was released. He was given a $125,000 severance.

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