State leadership can have a powerful impact on broadband best practices in K-12 schools–and a new report highlights success stories and strong policies supporting broadband connectivity.

State K-12 Broadband Leadership: Driving Connectivity, Access and Student Success, the new report from SETDA, highlights how state leaders are instrumental in advocating for policies and policy decisions that focus on broadband networks, bandwidth capacity, Wi-Fi implementation, and off campus access for low-income families.

“In order to provide personalized learning experiences for students to best prepare them for college and careers, and to compete in a global economy, all schools need access to reliable, high-speed broadband,” says SETDA’s incoming Executive Director, Candice Dodson. “No two states approach broadband implementation the same, however, state leadership is essential to the process in implementing high speed broadband for all.”

Key elements in broadband best practices

1. State leadership practices: Each state is different because of various factors in play, including geography, state education agency practices, and state procurement laws. Some states have implemented a statewide network, while some states solicit different state agencies to collaborate with each other and partner with non-profit organizations. Other states collaborate with various state agencies or external organizations. Sometimes the state legislature plays an instrumental role in expanding access for schools. In other states, infrastructure programs include provisions to ensure classrooms have updated and reliable wi-fi.

For instance, in Arkansas, connectivity is the top aim–100 percent of the state’s K-12 school districts were connected to high speed broadband through the Arkansas Public School Computer Network.

In Connecticut, the Connecticut Education Network was the first among–and one of only a few–state networks in the country to connect every district to fiber. CEN connects virtually every institution of higher education, as well as 62 percent of libraries in the state, in addition to serving as the primary public resource in K-12 broadband provision and support in the state.

2. Statewide K-12 education broadband connectivity: Statewide broadband networks can provide significant benefits to districts, including cost savings and increased bandwidth options. However, not all districts have access to a statewide network or statewide or regional consortia or master contract options. Instead these districts purchase network services through a commercial or nonprofit provider, which in some cases can be more costly. Alternatively, some districts may choose to build their own networks, especially if they can obtain affordable pricing options.

Many states are demonstrating leadership in this area by offering districts cost saving options for ample broadband connectivity. Currently, based on data from all 50 states plus Guam, 28 states have a statewide K-12 education broadband network, 10 states utilize regional networks and 18 states have alternative connection models, such as state master contracts, statewide consortia or other models to provide broadband to districts and schools.

3. Federal funding: E-rate modernization dramatically increased the number of school districts receiving WiFi funding from pre-modernization (14 percent) to post-modernization (83 percent).

4. State funding: Currently, based on data from 48 states plus Guam, states provide funding for external broadband connections, internal wireless connections and off campus access. Specifically, 22 states provide direct state funding for broadband connectivity, with 11 states providing funding directly to the state broadband network and 11 states providing funding directly to the district. Additionally, 14 states provide state funding for internal wireless connections. Several states allow funding to be used for either external broadband connections or internal wireless connections. 21 states offer a statewide contract for internal wireless connections that LEAs can purchase from. Seven states provide funding for off campus access.

7 ways school leaders can craft better broadband policies

5. Emerging broadband best practices and policies: SETDA supports the continuance of the educational eligibility and use requirements for Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum. Model EBS cases of educational entities that built their own networks include Northern Michigan University; Albemarle County (VA); Kings County Office of Education (CA); and Imperial County Office of Education (CA), demonstrate this spectrum’s potential to make a meaningful difference for students and communities. Successful public-private partnerships have also been created through leasing EBS spectrum to a commercial operator.

6. State broadband guidelines for districts: SETDA’s 2016 recommendations for broadband connectivity, published in The Broadband Imperative II: Equitable Access for Learning, were based on research and consultation with experts in the field. Recommendations included broadband capacity targets for connection to the internet service provider (ISP) based on the size of the district (number of students), along with WAN recommendations.

7. Off-campus access: Many students do not have adequate access to the internet at home—often referred to as the “homework gap,” the gap between students whose internet connections at home are slow or non-existent—and those who have home connections with adequate speed. Reliable off campus internet access is a problem disproportionately common in rural and underserved communities, with more than half of states reporting that both availability and affordability in rural areas impacts student internet access off campus. In urban areas, affordability is often more of an issue than availability of service. Twenty-nine states have developed strategies either formally or informally to address affordable off campus internet access for students, especially in low-income and rural areas.

Laura Ascione
About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura