A national nonprofit group that works to boost Internet connectivity in schools thinks that Arkansas could be the first state in the country to meet national ConnectED goals to link every student to high-speed broadband.
And it’s helping officials in the Natural State study how to do it in a cost-effective way.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe announced a new partnership on Monday between his state’s Arkansas Department of Education and EducationSuperHighway, which has already performed an initial study of broadband spending and core functionalities of digital learning in the state’s public schools.
“What we found was a state that’s actually doing better than the national average in terms of its connectivity but also a state in which almost half of the school districts in the state do not have the connectivity required for 21st century digital learning,” EducationSuperHighway CEO Evan Marwell during Monday’s announcement.
WATCH: Gov. Mike Beebe-EducationSuperHighway broadband announcement
Marwell detailed how the Arkansas Public School Computer Network, once hailed as one of the most progressive state educational technological investments in the nation, no longer meets the state’s needs and is not cost effective.
That network “represents 50 percent of the state’s collective investment in Internet access for its schools. In 1992, this was a groundbreaking contract and one of the first state efforts in the nation to make K-12 broadband access a state priority. It was truly innovative back then . . . but it relies on outdated copper technology in a fiber world.”
Using federal dollars and shifting the $15 million spent on the state’s copper-wire network could be used instead to install high-speed fiber connections for public schools.
Marwell’s organization and Arkansas are now moving on to new stages of assessing how to improve Internet connectivity for all the state’s public schools, which will include direct support to schools to examine the technical requirements of upgrading connections for individual school districts.
“We will help run a collaborative process with the Department of Education and the broadband service providers to develop the most cost-effective long-term solution for delivering affordable connectivity and technical support to the state’s K-12 schools,” Marwell said.
“Providing our schools with high-speed broadband connections is critical to preparing our students for the modern economy,” the governor said in his announcement. "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.”