Proposed Budget Cuts Could Hit Rural Broadband For Schools

Middle school and high school students all over the state are participating in the Alaska Measures Progress tests this week. This is the first year the test are being completed completely online. The cuts by the state legislature to broadband services could limit rural schools ability to administer these mandated state tests.

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Last year, the state legislature passed the Broadband Assistance Grant. The grant provided 5 million dollars for rural schools per year for next three years to up their broadband capabilities.

The Southwest Region School District is composed of schools in 7 western Bristol Bay villages. Before the grant allowed them to up the bandwidth last year, the small schools in the district were at 2 Mbps (megabits per second) and 4 Mbps in large schools.

“Which is nothing. That hardly qualifies as household bandwidth in the lower 48 or even here these days,” says Lester Parks.

Lester Parks is the Technology Coordinator for the Southwest Region School District. The goal of the Southwest district is to get the internet to 10 Mbps.

He says the lack of high-speed broadband has not only restricted use of teacher resources and student learning opportunities, but will also negatively impact the district’s capacity to implement new state required AMP test.

Parks says when the broadband is saturated, students are unable to load the login page for the test.

“And we’ve also found that kids that were already in and testing when the bandwidth become maxed out, were kicked out of the test and sent back to the login page, right in the middle of taking the test,” says Parks.

The Southwest schools are in the middle of the state testing right now, and Parks says things are going much better.

“We have had some small glitches even with the broadband upgrade we have in place now,” says Parks.

But if the legislature’s cuts go into effect, the district will lose those upgrades. Parks says the district will then be right back to having major testing issues again.

“Unless we can come up with 171,000 dollars somewhere and we have no place for it to come from other then the broadband assistance for schools we were told to count on for the next three years,” says Parks.

On top of losing the money, Park says the cuts will have meant all the staff time and effort put into implementing the grant was a waste.

On Tuesday, Parks testified before the Senate Finance Committee, saying the Broadband Assistance Grant is a sound investment in Alaskan schools, and requested the funding be reinstated.

Matt Martin is a reporter for KDLG in Dillingham.

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