Battle Over State Ed-Data Contract Emerges in Wisconsin

Managing Editor

A dispute over a multimillion dollar contract to run a student data system in Wisconsin offers a revealing look at the high stakes and all-out competition among companies seeking to secure contracts to do education business with states.

A company headquartered in the state, Skyward Inc., is protesting a process that resulted in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announcing its intent to award a contract to create a statewide data warehouse to a different vendor.

After posting a request for proposals and putting companies through a review process, the state issued a notice of its plan to award the contract to Infinite Campus, a Minnesota-based company.

There’s a big chunk of money at stake. The state has set aside $15 million in its two-year budget for the student information system, a project that Wisconsin officials argue will reduce costs, improve efficiency, and create more equity across districts.

But the decision to go with Infinite Campus angered officials at Skyward, who accused state officials of having failed to follow a “fair, transparent, and open process,” and argued that the state did not adequately consider cost savings that the Wisconsin company could bring.

“We are confident that Skyward provides the greatest return for Wisconsin taxpayers compared to the selected, Minnesota-based vendor,” the company said in a statement, adding that the business is “encouraged and thankful for the outpouring of support it has received across the entire state to protest this decision.”

The protest efforts by the company, which does extensive business with districts in Wisconsin, apparently have extended beyond simply filing a protest (you can read the text of it here). The Associated Press reports that the company has been running newspaper ads in recent weeks criticizing the decision, and urging the public to contact Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction, Patrick Gasper, said the state would take a look at the company’s objections. (Skyward is the only vendor that has protested the process, he said.) After the education department responds to the complaint, the company can appeal to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, if it is not satisfied, Gasper noted.

“We respect Skyward’s right to protest the decision, and DPI will conduct a fair and comprehensive review of their protest following state procurement guidelines,” Gasper told Education Week in a statement. “While there is no timeframe established in rules or statute for how long the protest response may take, DPI will respond as quickly as possible following a thorough review.”

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