- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana schools will soon be able to tap into a $2 billion pool of federal money to improve wireless connectivity on their campuses. The Federal Communications Commission has approved a plan to funnel the money over two years towards high-speed Wi-Fi in public and private schools and in libraries.

The fund, officially the Schools and Libraries Program, pays 20 percent to 90 percent of telecommunications and Internet access costs for nonprofits. The government gets the money from telecommunications providers, which gets it from consumers.

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports (https://bit.ly/1kZix7z ) the expanded program would provide an additional 1,360 Louisiana schools with discounts on contracts with wireless vendors over the next five years, beginning in 2015. Another 272 Louisiana libraries would also get discounts.

Until now, little to no money was given to Louisiana schools for internal Wi-Fi communications. Instead, school systems were mainly reimbursed for their dial-up or ethernet connection costs.

“Even in its best years, the program only historically supported a few schools to get the fastest access,” said John Harrington, chief executive officer of Funds for Learning, an Oklahoma-based e-rate consulting firm. To pay for the increased Wi-Fi support, federal officials are gradually paring down funding for non-broadband connections, such as local phone services.

The announcement comes at a time when schools across the country are upgrading classroom technology to support computer-based tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment consortiums. These tests are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, new student expectations that many education activists deem more stringent. Louisiana was set in 2015 to launch computer-based tests produced by the national partnership, but Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent push to abandon Common Core has cast some doubt on the testing.

In Jefferson Parish, the state’s largest school system, the news is welcome. School officials will look to e-rate reimbursements for continued technology upgrades, with a full wireless upgrade expected by 2017, chief academic officer Michelle Blouin-Williams said. “It fits into where we’re headed,” she said.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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