PHOENIX – Another $8 million will be combined with Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed $5 million to give rural schools access to high-speed internet – but even including the state funds by the corporation commission, around half of the schools in Arizona won’t be served.
Utilizing data from the census and the Arizona Department of Education, of the 222 districts in Arizona, 70 are considered urban and 152 are rural.
Map created by Chrisitanna Silva/ Arizona Sonora News Service. Red dots are districts with below average scores. Green dots are districts with above average scores.
The ARSA and federal e-rate programs are working together with the government to create contracts that will show how much money it will take to give every rural school high-speed internet access. Most schools that do not currently have high speed internet will require some sort of construction for access.
Rural schools are in a unique position – while their needs tend to align with that of schools in larger districts, they don’t have the political power or geographic proximity to receive the help they need.
With the governor’s $5 million and the corporation commission’s $8 million, the ARSA can leverage it through federal e-rate grants and bring that $13 million up to $130 million, which they can make work for a few years. The money will be distributed based of off needs to the most isolated rural schools.
But the funding will have to be offered again next year before all rural schools have high-speed internet connection. And then the Legislature will need to approve maintenance costs each year. Those costs will not be known until May.
With better internet connectivity, schools can use alternative learning techniques like blended learning to make up for some of the teacher shortage through computer programs, and can increase testing scores through online training programs for the students.
Blended learning involves the students working online, learning from educational videos, sharing their work through Google Docs. This learning style teaches students techniques to learn for themselves and from their peers. This helps school districts alleviate some of the pressure on teachers who often have too many students due to the teacher shortage in schools across the state.
Step 10 of Gov. Ducey’s 18-step education plan was to connect rural schools to high-speed internet, coupled with a statewide computer science and coding initiative.
“This session, let’s break the firewall and get these kids connected,” the governor said in his state of the state address.
Christianna Silva is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the school of journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.