Local firms giving $350 million to U.S. schools (w/video)

  • President Barack Obama speaks to students and teachers, Education Department and Maryland officials at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, about the progress toward his ConnectED goal of connecting 99 percent of students to next-generation broadband and wireless technology within five years. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Two North Bay high-tech companies pledged Tuesday to give away more than $350 million in software and educational content as part of a White House initiative to put technology into the hands of American students.

Sebastopol tech publisher O'Reilly Media said it would make more than $100 million in educational content and tools available, for free, to 15,000 schools in America.

To the south, Marin County software developer Autodesk vowed to contribute $250 million of its 3-D design software and training materials to every U.S. middle school and high school.

The two donations, announced Tuesday by President Barack Obama, are part of a package of commitments by seven U.S. companies valued at more than $750 million. Obama hailed the ConnectED program, which he initiated last summer, as a way to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education as they prepare to compete in the global economy.

“In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools,” Obama said at a middle school in the Washington suburb of Adelphi, Md.

AT&T and Sprint each pledged more than $100 million in free wireless connections for middle- and high-school students, while Verizon will give up to $100 million in cash and services. Apple promised to give iPads, MacBooks and other devices worth $100 million to disadvantaged schools. Microsoft pledged to discount the price of its Windows operating system, decreasing the price of Windows-based devices.

O'Reilly Media will team with Safari Books Online, which it formed in 2001 as a joint venture with Pearson Education, to participate in the White House program. O'Reilly Media spokeswoman Sara Peyton declined to discuss the initiative and said no one from the company was available to speak Tuesday.

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