- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Some school administrators in north-central and northwest Kansas are expressing mixed feelings about a new plan to improve high-speed internet access in rural districts.

State officials announced a plan this week called Kansas Connect and Learn, with a goal of expanding internet access to up to 20 percent of Kansas school districts. Under the plan, the state would partner with Educational SuperHighway, a California-based organization that will coordinate with districts and internet service providers to plan upgrades of system.

“It would definitely help us,” Larry Lyder, superintendent of the Golden Plains School District in Selden, said Wednesday. “It would help students achieve more and research more.”

Lyder says the district’s internet provider, Nex-Tech, is slow for the district’s needs, The Salina Journal reported (https://bit.ly/2gKQEbH).

“We’ve become accustomed to it,” he said. “Connections in Hays and Colby are faster, but we struggle with it in rural areas.”

Dave Hale, Weskan superintendent, said he was skeptical of the plan because of the cost of extending fiber-optic cable to Weskan, 30 miles south of the interstate. But he acknowledged his district could use higher-speed internet service, even after the district recently changed internet providers.

“We have more speed, but it’s still pushing the limit for what we can get out here in far western Kansas,” he said.

The Hoxie School District has up to 1 gigabyte speeds but experiences technology problems caused by funding and infrastructure, Superintendent Jim Howard said.

“Our main issue is an aging infrastructure and lack of good tech operators,” he said. “We can’t compete with larger schools to pay a high salary for good directors, and the knowledge to fix infrastructure is very specific and expensive.”

He added many small schools such as Hoxie have old equipment that should be replaced but they can’t afford new systems. Other rural districts, such as Rock Hills in Mankato and Oberlin, already have fiber.

Gov. Sam Brownback said when announcing the program Tuesday that the state might have to allocate up to $10 million for the program, with the money to come from the Universal Service Fund. The state hopes the federal government will pay 80 to 90 percent of the potential $100 million project costs.

Kansas isn’t paying EducationSuperHighway for its services. The nonprofit raises funds from several corporate and philanthropic groups, including foundations connected to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The project leaders hope to have upgrades complete by summer 2018.

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com


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