Microsoft settlement buys school computers, software

Twelve Catholic elementary schools in the Hudson Valley Twelve Catholic elementary schools in the Hudson Valley are at risk of closing in 2013, according to a list released by the Archdiocese of New York. (Nov. 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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ALBANY -- Dozens of school districts on Long Island and elsewhere in the state qualify for money to buy computers and software as the result of a legal settlement with Microsoft Corp., state education officials announced Tuesday.

Under the settlement, the state has set aside $87 million for a Technology Voucher Program. Public and charter schools are eligible to apply for funding if at least 50 percent of their students get free or reduced-price lunches due to low family incomes.

One aim of the voucher program is to help districts and schools prepare for computerized testing of students. Such testing is expected to become increasingly common as New York and other states phase in new common exams in the 2014-15 school year.

Computerized testing is regarded as offering many advantages, including the potential for reduced cheating and more precise measurements of individual students' skills. But many educators on the Island and elsewhere are questioning where they will find the money for large-scale additions to their existing computer labs.

John R. Williams, the Amityville superintendent, noted that all five schools in his district appeared on the eligibility list. He added, however, that his district would have to check further into state requirements for funding -- particularly any aspects of the program that might mean extra costs for local taxpayers -- before deciding whether to apply.

"I'm going to have to reserve judgment on this until we see all the relevant details," Williams said.

A State Education Department memo released with Tuesday's announcement lists more than 15 districts and 90 individual schools on the Island that are eligible to apply. Those districts include Amityville, Copiague, Hempstead, Patchogue-Medford, South Country, Westbury and Wyandanch.

"Far too often, students in low-income school districts miss out on the use of the latest technology in the classroom," said state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. "These funds will help level the playing field for thousands of students."

The $87 million voucher fund is part of a larger financial settlement stemming from a 2006 agreement between Microsoft and the government agencies in a consumer case.

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