Gov. Mike Beebe announced today another study of broadband service to public schools.
He said the Education Department has partnered with a national nonprofit, EducationSuperHighway, and already completed the first phase of a study of “digital learning readiness” and K-12 broadband spending. From his news release:
.. “Providing our schools with high-speed broadband connections is critical to preparing our students for the modern economy,” Governor Beebe said. “With the leadership of the Arkansas Department of Education, the General Assembly, our school districts and service providers, we can give our children the resources they need to compete and succeed.”
By transitioning $15 million currently being spent annually on outdated copper networks and leveraging it with federal funds to build a high-speed fiber network, according to EducationSuperHighway, Arkansas can become the first state in the country to meet the national ConnectED goal of linking every student to high-speed broadband.
EducationSuperHighway selected Arkansas as one of two pilot partner states to collaborate on an in-depth project to improve broadband access and lower costs for public schools.
The news release didn’t address the continuing legal issue: A 2011 state law that prohibits the state from getting into the broadband business. This has been mostly seen as an impediment to hooking up to an existing statewide broadband network that serves colleges. But it could also hamper individual state efforts apart from hooking to that particular network.
The debate has been marked by differences between various parties on the sufficiency of existing broadband services provided by private telecom companies. The telecom companies say they can provide the service and that the state has improved in recent years.
Last week, the Legislative Council approved another study of its own, a followup to one approved in July. The first study was to determine the cost of providing every Arkansas student with adequate Internet. The second is to insure that figures produce apples-to-apples comparisons of all school districts.
The EducationSuperHighway study is separate from the legislature’s effort. It is being done at no cost to the state, a spokesman for Beebe said. The organization is supported by a number of foundations.
At a news conference today, speakers said Arkansas is spending most of its school money for broadband on an outdated copper wire delivery system when it should be using fiber-optic service. The existing Arkansas school computer network is too expensive and out of date, they said. The existing service is provided through the Arkansas Department of Information Services, a bone of some political contention. Some politicians blame DIS for the law change that hampers creation of a new computer network. Beebe himself is reportedly of that belief. Today, he promised a full audit of DIS.
Speaking of children and education, some recent surveys:
* Ranked Arkansas 44th in the country in a ranking of the best and worst school systems.
* Arkansas also ranked in the bottom tier of states as a place to raise children, according to the Annie Casey Foundation.
* And then a Wallet Hub survey ranked Arkansas as the 48th worst state to be a disadvantaged child.