Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed upgrading the state’s broadband infrastructure and charging school districts and charter schools $15 per child for the next six years to help pay for it.
Her proposal is receiving attention and raising concerns among some who say it would benefit companies and homeowners so schools shouldn’t bear the cost burden. Others say schools that don’t have access to broadband likely can’t afford the infrastructure or equipment needed to connect it, and still others say it’s unfair to charge districts that already have fast internet.
Rural schools in particular lack broadband, and those who support the proposal say it would address that digital divide. Three of the state’s schools still use dial-up Internet.
“We’re 20 years behind some of our sister states,” state Budget Director John Arnold said in a story published in The Arizona Republic. “It is detrimental to economic development and education in rural Arizona as our schools become more heavily dependent on the Internet.”
Brewer included the proposal in her 2015 executive budget. Only 11 percent of Arizona schools meet the national standard for broadband, and more than 40 percent will have difficulty transitioning to online testing, according to a story in the Arizona Journal.
The $350 million proposal would make broadband available to all schools, but schools would have to pay for the infrastructure needed to connect to broadband. Schools also would have to pay for Internet access.
Steve Rizley, a senior vice president and regional general manager of Cox Communications Southwest, wrote a critical opinion piece on the issue that said spending hundreds of millions of dollars in a handful of rural communities won’t solve the problem for a majority of the state’s students.
“If the state wants to improve broadband adoption for the majority of Arizona students, the real investment needs to be in maintaining and growing each school’s capabilities to take advantage of the broadband service that is already waiting at the front door,” he wrote.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.