Kansas will use a combination of state and federal dollars to equip every public school in the state with high-speed internet over the next two and a half years.
Gov. Sam Brownback said approximately 300 schools in the state, primarily in rural Kansas, need fiber optic connections to provide high-speed internet access to students.
The state is partnering with EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, to provide those schools with the resources needed to provide high-speed internet in every classroom.
“We will bring 21st-century digital access to all Kansas schools,” Brownback said at a news conference Tuesday.
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“We need Wi-Fi access in every school,” Brownback said. “We need connectivity that districts can afford. We will work to unleash the potential of our students to provide the technological literacy necessary to compete in a knowledge economy.”
The state will use $10 million from the state’s universal services fund to pay for some of the upfront costs.
The bulk of the funding – about 70 to 80 percent – will come from the Federal Communications Commission, which will also cover most of the ongoing costs. EducationSuperHighway, which will identify which districts need to to be upgraded, will provide its services free of charge.
Districts will have to pay a portion of the ongoing costs once the high-speed internet is set up.
Education Commissioner Randy Watson, who joined Brownback on Tuesday, said the initiative will enable rural schools to “level the playing field with students that are maybe in the more suburban areas of Kansas that do have that high-speed access.”
Watson said the increased digital access will offer teachers opportunities to use their creativity. He also said it will help districts provide instruction in curriculum areas where they lack a full-time instructor.
“One of the major things we have is a teacher shortage in Kansas,” Watson said. “…We have districts that are doing this already, that are leveraging a teacher at a nearby town to teach calculus to two different school districts. The speed of the internet would be critical in doing that. So I don’t see it as we’re going to be outsourcing existing jobs, but we have a shortage especially in our rural communities of the expertise of high-level math and science in particular.”