SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A proposed bill would give more than 90,000 students across 100 districts in rural Illinois access to high-speed internet.
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, and Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood are sponsoring the legislation, the State Journal-Register reported.
Manar says the measure would be a one-time expense that would bridge the digital divide that puts many rural schools at a disadvantage. Schools that lack access to high speed internet can’t stream educational videos, use online testing or offer remote learning.
“We expect schools and teachers to solve all of society’s ills; we debate that all the time in the legislature. Yet we fail to equip them with the tools necessary to get the job done,” Manar said. “With the evidence-based model now in place, this is the next logical step for us to take to bridge inequity in our public schools in the state of Illinois.”
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Building the fiber optic infrastructure is estimated to cost $75,000 to $420,000 per school. Funds from the state’s School Infrastructure Fund, which has more than $36 million, would be used for the improvements.
The legislation would also set aside more than $16 million in state funds from the upcoming budget. It could gain as much as $50 million in matching funds from the federal government.
The legislation has the potential to also lay the groundwork for general broadband expansion in rural communities, Manar said.
A 2016 Federal Communications Commission report says 40 percent of American in rural areas don’t have access to broadband internet, compared to just 4 percent lacking access in urban areas.