State approval of $60 million for broadband expansion could help K-12 students

K-12 students could benefit from a decision Monday by state leaders to spend $60 million in federal COVID-19 funds to expand broadband service in Kansas.

The decision by Gov. Laura Kelly and state legislative leaders meeting as the State Finance Council will allocate $50 million in coronavirus relief funds to private internet service providers to expand broadband to improve tele-health, education and businesses. In addition, $10 million will go toward helping low-income Kansans get high-speed internet.

Last week before another panel, Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary David Toland said, “The need for connectivity has never been more pressing and urgent.”

KASB sent a letter to Kelly and legislative leaders in support of the broadband initiative. A June 2020 study by Common Sense Media entitled, “Closing the K-12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning” found more than 156,000 Kansas students –one-third of the 500,000 students enrolled in K-12 schools –lack adequate access to broadband internet service. This digital divide is often called the “homework gap.”

“KASB asked our member Boards of Education about the biggest challenges they faced regarding providing continuous learning when school buildings closed at the end of the 2019-20 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in their plans to reopen schools this fall. Following the primary concerns about health, safety and sanitation, our boards tell us the next biggest challenge is student access to broadband internet service,” the letter stated.

Schools also may benefit from additional COVID-19 funds that are being allocated to counties and could be spent on education costs related to the pandemic. School leaders are urged to contact their county officials to recommend allocations since deadlines are quickly approaching to submit spending plans.

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, was the lone vote on the State Finance Council against the broadband funding. Hawkins said he was upset with Kansas Department of Health and Education Secretary  Dr. Lee Norman circulating what Hawkins said was an inaccurate representation of the positive effects of wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.


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