Abbott Initiative hopes to bring high speed internet to all students

Governor Greg Abbott (KXAN Photo)
Governor Greg Abbott (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two million school children in Texas go to class without high speed internet, according to the non-profit Education SuperHighway. That’s nearly half the students in the state.

Bandwidth for internet is very much like I-35. When rush hour comes, it doesn’t move very fast.

“More lanes and higher speed limits usually means more capacity,” said Kevin Schwartz from AISD. He runs their technology learning systems. While all their classrooms connect to the web, better infrastructure means faster learning.

Much of the burden has been on AISD and the local tax dollars to pay for it. “Everyday it’s a new challenge, the rules change, the needs go up, it’s never static,” said Schwartz.

Outside the big city, high speed connection is a luxury. Children fall behind.

“I truly want Texas to be the state to lead the country in innovation,” said Gov. Greg Abbott. He teamed up with the TEA and the non-profit Education SuperHighway to speed up Texas classrooms. They’ll find who needs what and make a plan to put money and resources behind it next year.

Tony Swei, co-founder of Education Super Highway, has done it before.

“Whipping [this phone out] and getting to Neil Armstrong’s wiki page maybe takes two or three seconds. That doesn’t happen in a lot of schools. Our belief fundamentally is if there is free flow of information anywhere it should be in the schools,” Swei said.

State leaders tell me they’ve never been this involved in connecting schools before. They hope to pay for the plan with matching grants from Washington D.C.

Getting high-speed internet in every classroom can be a pricey proposition for school districts. For example, the yearly cost for bandwidth at AISD is $300,000 and that doesn’t includes the millions the district spent to build the infrastructure.

The Education SuperHighway nonprofit estimates that 85 percent of the schools in Texas have fiber connections needed to meet the bandwidth needs of students. But just over half of schools in the state have WiFi in every classroom. And only 60 percent of school districts meet the federal internet speed goal of 100 kilobits per second for each student.

Education SuperHighway is not the only group working to improve broadband access for students. In 2013, President Obama announced the ConnectED Initiative. It has the goal of connecting 99 percent of American students to next-generation high-speed internet by 2018. The initiative combines both government and private sector funding to achieve the goals.

 “Learning is no longer limited by bricks and mortar – it is expanded exponentially by bytes and bandwidth,” said Gov.Abbott. “Expanding technology in our classrooms will allow the State of Texas to meet future workforce needs, help teachers build a pipeline of qualified graduates, and support our students in their efforts to learn without limits. Every single child deserves access to quality education, and with the expanded use of technology in the classroom, that opportunity will be available to all Texas students.”

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