With a forbidding terrain and a harsh climate that make long-distance education a necessity, Alaska continues to push ahead with technology aimed at spanning the vast gaps between schools.
Over the past few years, nearly every school district in Alaska has been connected to the Internet, and a vast majority of those districts draw on the power of broadband connections, state officials say.
For the first time, the state plans to take the step of using federal E-rate money to pay for phone and Internet connections at a number of federal Head Start programs throughout Alaska. In contrast to the state’s school systems, only a small minority of Head Start programs in Alaska have any way of connecting to the Internet, says Della Matthis, a consultant hired by the state to work on E-rate issues.
After consulting with the Alaska Department of Law and federal officials, state education officials are confident that their Head Start programs are eligible for E-rate funding because they provide what amounts to K-12 services for low-income families, Matthis says.
The E-rate money will help cover potentially high long-distance telephone bills at Head Start centers, and help establish Internet connections, Mathis says. State officials already have approved E-rate funding for a Head Start program in the remote village of Bethel, in western Alaska, and they have received at least eight other applications from other Head Start locations since then.
Meanwhile, more school districts across Alaska are establishing information-management systems for teachers, parents, and students to use. Some of those programs allow parents to check basic information such as their children’s daily assignments, attendance, and class schedules, says Cecilia Miller, program manager of education technology at the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
An increasing number of districts, she adds, are also taking advantage of videoconferencing and online tools to share curricula and offer teacher training, through organizations such as the Alaska Distance Learning Partnership, a consortium of school districts and technology-content providers.
Alaska funds educational technology through overall per-pupil allocations to districts; school systems are then given latitude on whether to spend money on technology or other needs.