Virginia schools closing connectivity gap

Published 9:38 am Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The schools attended by approximately 75 percent of Virginia’s 1.3 million public school students now meet or exceed the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum standard for internet connectivity, according to the non-profit organization EducationSuperHighway’s latest state connectivity snapshot. In 2015, only about 14 percent of Virginia students attended schools meeting the FCC standard.

“Access to high-speed internet is critical in preparing our students for success in the new Virginia economy,” Governor Terry McAuliffe said. “Improving connectivity and increasing broadband statewide allows the students of today to become the highly skilled workforce of tomorrow, and I am proud that the commonwealth is leading the way in this vital effort.”

EducationSuperHighway credits Governor McAuliffe’s leadership and the Virginia Department of Education’s K-12 Learning Infrastructure Program (KLIP) for the rapid expansion of broadband access during the last two years. The program’s accomplishments include the following, identifying $15 million in existing state funds to support fiber infrastructure construction, allowing Virginia school divisions to leverage $47 million in federal E-rate funds during 2017 alone; providing tools and technical assistance to help divisions obtain E-rate discounts on internet and internal Wi-Fi connections; establishing 26 state master contracts allowing school divisions to save up to 45 percent when purchasing broadband and Wi-Fi equipment and promoting price transparency, providing school divisions with a stronger hand when negotiating with service providers.

“Through KLIP, VDOE and its partners helped 70 school divisions achieve upgrades expanding bandwidth for more than 777,000 students,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said. “This shows the power of innovation and collaboration to expand opportunities for students, even when budgets are tight.”

“KLIP was instrumental in helping our division evaluate broadband services and assess how bandwidth pricing compared in other large Virginia divisions,” said Amy Jo Phillips, director of information technology services, Prince William County Public Schools.

EducationSuperHighway estimates that internet access for approximately 289,000 students in 10 school divisions — while sufficient for most instructional and assessment purposes — remains below the FCC standard of 100 kilobits per second, per student.