South Dakota schools got some mixed news on the ed-tech front on March 4: Although it appears they will not be forced to pay for internet access themselves this year, it also looks like they will not receive an extra $3 million in state funds requested by Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, to expand access to the state’s laptop computer initiative.

Lawmakers in that state were considering a bill that would have required South Dakota’s school districts to begin paying a significant portion of the cost of their internet services themselves–a cost that, until now, had been footed entirely by the state.

Lawmakers viewed the measure as a way to trim expenses as they brace for leaner times forced by the nation’s economic downturn. It’s a problem faced in other states, too, as school board members from across the country say local school budgets are in for a hit (read more here).

According to Peter Kaplan, director of regulatory affairs for eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning LLC, South Dakota is one of “only a handful of states” operating statewide networks that supply internet access to their schools. Others include Florida, Illinois, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Utah.

Supporters of the proposed measure argued that failure to pass the bill would leave a $2.9 million hole in the state budget. Opponents, however, said the state should not shift those expenses to school districts, because that would add to local property taxes.

The legislation, which barely passed out of the state House on a 38-31 vote after failing on its first test in that chamber, would have required school districts to assume 43 percent of the costs of being hooked to the internet. The state would have paid the remaining 57 percent.

Jason Dilges, state commissioner of finance and management, said that’s the same split as currently offered by the state when schools buy computers. He added that school districts should assume their fair share of internet-connection costs.

The state Senate disagreed, voting to kill the proposal March 4. Yet, in a tradeoff of sorts, the Senate also rejected Gov. Mike Rounds’ request for an extra $3 million–almost the same cost as the internet-access fees in question–to pay for laptop computers for students.

The state Senate agreed to take approximately $3 million out of a bill that provides extra money for a number of programs in the current budget year. The bill was approved in a different form earlier by the House, which now must decide whether it will accept the Senate’s changes.


South Dakota Legislature

Gov. Mike Rounds