A new initiative championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would bring affordable and fast internet to every public school in Kansas.
The governor announced Tuesday that the state would be partnering with EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco nonprofit, to help with the project. The goal is to help Kansas school districts improve internet access over roughly the next two years, with help from federal money and guidance from the nonprofit.
Brownback said around 300 schools, mostly in rural and small towns in Kansas, need fiber-optic connections to strengthen internet access.
“We will bring 21st century digital access to all Kansas students,” Brownback said.
He said that means every Kansas school needs affordable fiber-optic connections and Wi-Fi access.
Most of the money to pay for the project, officials said Tuesday, would come from the Federal Communications Commission. The program is expected to cost the state around $10 million.
Brownback said EducationSuperHighway is helping the school districts for free.
Evan Marwell, the nonprofit’s founder and CEO, said the first step is to figure out which school districts need upgrades and determine how much those will cost. He estimated the total cost of the program could be around $100 million.
The federal money would come from the FCC’s E-rate program for affordable broadband. School districts have to apply for the money.
Marwell expected around 70 to 80 percent of the funding will come from the FCC. Marwell said that would be both for the upfront costs of the upgrades, as well as for help with the monthly recurring costs. The school districts will likely have to pay some monthly costs for the internet services after the upgrade.
“When we look at what’s happening in states across the nation that have implemented digital learning, we don’t see the outsourcing of teaching,” Marwell said. “What we see is teachers being empowered by new tools and resources that they have available at their fingertips. We see students being engaged by new forms of learning.”
Officials said Tuesday that they were hopeful the project could help improve education for students, regardless of ZIP code.
“This will be a major component, especially in our rural areas in Kansas, to be able to level the playing field with students that are maybe in more of the suburban areas of Kansas that do have that high speed access,” state Education Commissioner Randy Watson said.
The improved internet may also help with the state’s teacher shortage, Watson said. The education commissioner said internet speed would be critical in cases where a teacher in one town could teach a subject, like calculus, to two different school districts.
“I don’t see it as we’re going to be outsourcing existing jobs,” Watson said. “But we have a shortage, especially in our rural communities, of the expertise of high-level math and science in particular, that this could only enhance as we move forward.”