A national nonprofit is partnering with Indiana to improve high-speed internet access for schools across Indiana during the next two years.
The focus will be on 30 schools that lack high-speed fiber connections. There will also be assistance for school districts to apply for federal grants to improve broadband infrastructure or increase classroom Wi-Fi access.
The organization EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit working to bring internet access to U.S. classrooms, will also help local schools negotiate lower rates with internet providers.
State superintendent Jennifer McCormick says students cannot meet academic expectations if they are struggling with internet in rural, urban and suburban schools.
“It’s not just about access, it’s about capacity. We have to have capacity in our districts to get it done – with curriculum, with instruction, with assessment – the demands are huge,” she says.
In Indiana, 98 percent of public school districts meet a federal minimum standard for bandwidth per student, but 38,500 students are in schools that fall short.
Nationally, 97 percent of schools have a fiber optic connection, according to a recent report by EducationSuperHighway
EducationSuperHighway will help schools tap into more than $47 million in federal dollars earmarked for digital improvements at schools. The plan will also pull from $2 million in state funding for school internet access.
Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway, says Improving the affordability of broadband for school districts in Indiana is “maybe the most important thing we can do for the future.”
In Indiana, 88 percent of school districts are not meeting national benchmarks for affordable broadband. And other schools lack widespread Wi-Fi.
“Even once we get all our schools with the minimum amount of bandwidth they needs, we see 30 to 50 percent growth with the demand for broadband,” he says. “The only way to keep up with that is to make broadband more affordable.”
Marwell says the federal funds, known as E-rate, pay about 70 percent of the cost for schools to install broadband access. Other matching funds from the state could are also available.
Reliable internet access will be vital for the new statewide assessment exam ILEARN. It will replace the ISTEP test in Spring 2019.
Gov. Eric Holcomb says the goal of partnering with EducationSuperHighway is to increase educational opportunities.
“This is going to enable us to have more access, and more speed and more affordability helping us navigate through this so we can tap into that new capacity for each and every school district,” he says.
The state is not paying EducationSuperHighway. The nonprofit is funded through philanthropic giving from Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, the Ford Foundation and other organizations.