Indiana Partners with Nonprofit on School Connectivity Initiative

The project strives to connect every classroom in the state to high-speed Internet service.

by Leeann Doerflein, The Lebanon Reporter / October 27, 2017
Shutterstock

(TNS) -- All Indiana schools will have a chance to benefit from a new partnership between the State of Indiana and the nonprofit group EducationSuperHighway.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick and Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the partnership on Tuesday. The arrangement is aimed to give all Hoosier students access to the tools and resources needed for digital learning — with high-speed internet in every classroom, the Indiana Department of Education said in a news release.

The state is partnering with EducationSuperHighway, which focuses on upgrading internet access in every public school classroom in America.

“To be ready for the jobs of the future, today’s students need the exposure and opportunity provided by quality digital learning experiences,” Holcomb said. “This partnership is the latest in our state’s ongoing commitment to extend and improve internet connectivity for every Indiana school.”

EducationSuperHighway said it will work with local school districts to determine what steps should be taken to bring their internet services up to par.

The non-profit has pledged to help each district achieve three goals: Affordable broadband; wall-to-wall Wi-Fi capable of supporting 1:1 digital learning; and infrastructure to deliver at least 100 kilobits per second per student — with the plan to make upgrades as needed to improve services. The non-profit would also help schools better leverage federal E-rate dollars.

Western Boone Community School Corporation already has much more than the recommended bandwidth, at 400 megabits per second. WeBo Technology Director Kyle Whiteley said bandwidth is a moving target. While the schools rarely reach peak bandwidth at the moment, that could change.

“Any help we can get to expand our bandwidth would be helpful,” Whiteley said. “Our bandwidth will only increase as technology usage at our schools increase.”

While WeBo is connected to high speed fiber internet at every school, if the non-profit could help lower the district’s internet bill that could also be of help.

“We can pay for it and we are paying for it, but we are always lobbying our provider to lower the rates,” he said.

Whiteley said internet providers are limited in the Western Boone area. The district plans to request bids for internet providers once the current contract expires, in an effort to lower the price.

Whiteley said the district has saved thousands of dollars by leveraging E-rate dollars — a fee collected on telecommunications bills and distributed to school districts based on need. The fee is a main reason why the district has been able to provide internet services to students.

“We aren’t leaving any E-rate dollar behind, that’s for sure,” Whiteley said.

The 1:1 initiative provides students in grades 4-12 with their own computers. Junior-senior high school students have take-home laptops. Elementary school pupils have personal in-class computers.

While the district has good internet at its three school buildings, a lack of fast internet at home remains a barrier for some students.

The district offers six mobile hot spots that students can check out from the library to help with the issue.

Since the hot spots use the cellular network, not all students have good luck with them. In an attempt to fix that problem Whiteley said the district is hoping to add hot spots in the near future and new careers that could give students options.

While schools in Boone County are not far away from the technology standards the IDOE wants to see, not all schools are so advanced.

Across Indiana, 98 percent of school districts are meeting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) minimum recommended bandwidth per student to support digital learning. However, that still leaves nearly 38,500 Hoosier students with internet speeds under the threshold.

A few more statistics from IDOE show the need for better internet in Indiana schools; 30 percent of schools are lacking high-speed fiber; 88 percent of school districts fall below federal standards for affordable broadband; there is also $47 million in federal E-rate funding allocated to Indiana schools that has not been leveraged used to upgrade Wi-Fi.

EducationSuperHighway plans to remain engaged with IDOE until all goals are achieved statewide, said CEO Evan Marwell.

“We’re looking forward to working with state leaders, school districts and service providers across the state to ensure that every Hoosier student has equal access to high-speed connectivity and the educational opportunity that it allows,” Marwell said.

©2017 The Lebanon Reporter (Lebanon, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.