Program Will Help Bridge A Critical Divide Between Rural and Metropolitan School Districts
JEFFERSON CITY — In early April, Governor Eric Greitens announced a new high-speed internet initiative, which will bring essential internet infrastructure to rural school districts. This program will help bridge the divide between students in rural districts, who lack access to this type of basic technology, and their counterparts throughout the world.
“The expansion of rural broadband across Northwest Missouri is vital to our rural communities and rural school districts,” said Sen. Dan Hegeman (R-Cosby). “I am proud to partner with the governor on this initiative, which will help us fulfill our obligation to best equip students in the 12th Senate District to compete with their peers at whatever the next level is going to be for them. Whether that’s college, farming, the trades or technical school, success today depends on having sufficient access to the internet.”
Of the state’s 518 school districts, grades PK-12, more than one hundred are currently without access to high-speed internet connections. This deficiency exists because many rural districts lack the infrastructure necessary to connect them to the internet, which in effect, is isolating them from the rest of the world, leaving them behind.
“School districts all over Missouri have not been able to afford the infrastructure for quality internet. Now, for the first time in our history, they can,” said Gov. Greitens. “Senator Hegeman is a strong leader who fights for the people in his district every day. I know that he supports expanding rural internet access, and that we will continue to work together to get results for you.”
While there is an existing federal program designed to help schools negotiate contracts to upgrade their internet connections, many schools still cannot afford to participate because the program does not cover all the costs. The governor has appropriated $6 million in this year’s budget to offset that cost barrier.
The appropriation funds a state match program, expanding the existing federal commitment and filling in whatever funding gap remains so that schools can participate without spending a penny. Every school in the state that needs new construction in order to get the bandwidth they need will be able to do so and have their costs fully covered by the federal government and the state of Missouri.
How It Works
The federal E-Rate program gives school districts a 20-90 percent discount on eligible technology services, including internet access, by reimbursing school districts for the services they purchase or by directly paying service providers to give a discount to the districts. Under the Second E-Rate Modernization Order, the program will provide a dollar-for-dollar state funding match for one-time special construction costs, up to an additional 10 percent. Assuming a state commits to the full 10 percent, this means the effective discount rate for construction of new fiber networks is 40-100 percent.
According to estimates provided by Education Superhighway (a nonprofit organization established to assist states in maximizing E-Rate funding), in conjunction with the Missouri Research and Education Network and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are up to 115 school districts that need access to fiber connections. It is estimated that connecting these districts will require approximately $45 million dollars. A 10 percent match of this sum is $4.5 million. Because not all school districts have a discount rate of at least 80 percent under E-Rate, the additional state and federal funds for special construction will not cover all of these districts’ costs. In order to ensure all districts can participate without dipping into their own funds, an additional $2 million is necessary to assist schools with lower discount rates. This brings the total to $6.5 million, which can be allocated over multiple fiscal years.
The current E-Rate funding year ends in May. In order to allow school districts to apply for special construction costs with extra federal reimbursement in the next E-Rate funding year, the governor has allocated the lion’s share of expected expenses — $6 million – in the current budget.
The House has included the governor’s recommendation in the budget it passed this week. The Senate takes up budget bills the week of April 10, and will need to pass a final budget by May 5, to be in compliance with a constitutional mandate. The budget will then be sent to the governor for his signature.
This is a press release from Senator Dan Hegeman’s office.