In a milestone for student achievement and state pride, Mississippi has become one of the first states in the nation to have an online computer in each of its public-school classrooms.
The state met the goal set by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to connect Mississippi’s 32,354 public classrooms to the internet by Dec. 31, according to spokesman John Sewell. The accomplishment has added importance in a state that has often found itself near the low end of educational and economic rankings.
“I’ve never known Mississippi to lead the nation in any educational category or technological category,” said Tom Pittman, publisher of The DeSoto Times in northern Mississippi. “It puts us at the forefront of something that is significant and important.”
The idea to connect all the state’s public classrooms to the internet began in 1999 as a challenge by Pittman’s brother, then-America Online chief executive Bob Pittman, at a meeting of the Mississippi Economic Council. Musgrove, a candidate for governor at the time, made the challenge part of his campaign.
The job required $40 million worth of equipment and training, but federal funding, private donations, and an innovative program that trained students to build computers meant the project cost the state just $6 million, according to Musgrove’s office. Donations included $500,000 from Mississippi native and former Netscape chief executive Jim Barksdale.
Besides Mississippi, the state closest to filling classrooms with online computers is Delaware, according to the National Governors Association in Washington.
Now that the computers are in place, the schools will have to train teachers to use them and pay for maintenance, upgrades, and connections, Sewell said. Some of the costs can be eased with federal education programs and by training students to fix computers, he added.