Broadband, education boost announced by Kelly administration

Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday announced efforts to increase high speed internet access across Kansas, saying it was needed to improve education, economic development and health care.

“Achieving universal broadband coverage will make communities more competitive economically, make them healthier and improve education access,” Kelly said.

Kelly issued an executive order establishing the Office of Broadband Development and announced 67 projects worth $49.3 million to make internet more available and affordable. These projects, funded through federal CARES Act dollars related to COVID-19 relief, had earlier been approved by the State Finance Council, which includes Kelly and legislative leaders.

The need to expand broadband internet service and make it more affordable has been a top priority of boards of education statewide. KASB has sought on the state and federal level funding to close what has been called the digital divide and homework gap.

“Students without broadband are at a disadvantage with their peers who have a reliable connection at home and can complete school online,” Kelly said.

Estimates have found that more than 156,000 Kansas students — about one third of those enrolled in K-12 schools — lack adequate access to broadband internet service.

Kelly and other top officials in her administration said the effort was needed to modernize Kansas, especially during the pandemic when broadband can make education, employment and health care more equitable.

The projects that will provide connections for 76,735 households, 5,996 businesses, and 636 anchor institutions, which include libraries, schools, and health departments, officials said.

Here is a list of the projects. One of the education-related projects will provide services in Burrton, Brookville, Lindsborg, Larned, Great Bend, Hoisington, Newton, Solomon, Gypsum, Bennington and Winfield. The project includes one-year vouchers for students most in need to make sure they have internet service and equipment to do remote learning, “We are closing up that loop to make sure that children truly have access to education,” said Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz, whose agency is helping with the effort.

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