A new CEO isn't the only big news Microsoft is sharing today. Microsoft announced Feb. 4 that it is improving access to its technology and cutting the cost of acquiring Windows-based products for U.S. public schools in support of ConnectED, an Obama administration initiative that seeks to align the nation's K-12 educational system with the digital age.
ConnectED encourages participation from private-sector tech companies as well as training for teachers in leveraging technology to improve education. The program also aims to "connect 99 percent of America's students to the digital age through next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless in their schools and libraries," according to a White House FAQ.
Microsoft is doing its part with a new education offer that will inject "more than $1 billion in savings into the system over the course of this year," the company said in a statement. Judson Althoff, president of Microsoft North America, said "We are responding to the president's challenge to ensure all students have access to the technology devices and services they need to succeed."
In terms of Microsoft products, the offer will encompass Windows 8.1 Pro and Office 365 Education. "U.S. K–12 schools can access Office 365 online for free," noted the company, while schools that license Office 365 for their staff and faculty can offer their students free access to Office 365 ProPlus, which includes "locally installed, full Office applications."
Microsoft is tackling teacher training via the Partners in Learning Network, which is made up of 1 million educators across the globe. For students, the company offers its Microsoft IT Academy.
Bing for Schools provides a sanitized, ad-free search experience—and the potential for Bing Rewards—for participating schools. Finally, the company has partnered with the nonprofit EveryoneOn to bring affordable broadband Internet service to low-income households.
Partner OEMs, including Dell and Lenovo, will help Microsoft deliver "substantially lower pricing on devices and services" to public schools, said Margo Day, vice president of U.S. education for Microsoft, in a blog post. "That means our partners will bring to market a multitude of great device offerings, at pre-priced levels, specifically for schools to choose from," she noted.
In prepared remarks, Jason Mooneyham, executive director of Lenovo's Public Sector business unit, said his company's "longstanding commitment to K–12 public education in the U.S. makes it an easy decision for us to join Microsoft as part of this initiative."
Bill Rodrigues, president of North American and global sales at Dell, stated, "We share the goals of the education community and the president's ConnectED initiative and are proud to partner with Microsoft to maximize access to digital learning with affordable and efficient IT solutions."
Microsoft joins other big technology companies that are backing ConnectED to the tune of $750 million. The Associated Press' Nedra Pickler reported Feb. 4 that Apple has promised $100 million in iPads, Macs and other products to the cause.
Telecoms are also showing their support. "AT&T and Sprint are contributing free Internet service through their wireless networks. Verizon is pitching in up to $100 million in cash and in-kind contributions," wrote Pickler.