By Brad Seamer
As an educator ina rural community, I understand the important role that digital connectivity has in student success and am committed to ensuring all students — regardless of where they live — have access to educational technology that is a critical part of quality learning. Today, the Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on a proposal to raise the funding for the federal E-rate program. Earlier this fall, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed an increase in funding for E-rate to expand Internet access to 99 percent of the nation’s students in their schools and libraries.
E-rate has been extremely successful in expanding access to basic Internet connectivity, but funding for E-rate has not kept pace with demand and a changing technological environment. In 2013, 55 applications from schools and libraries across South Dakota that requested E-rate funding to increase access to Wi-Fi were left unfunded. States nationwide are experiencing similar shortfalls in their funding requests.
Unfortunately, this problem is exacerbated for minority, poor and rural students. Schools and Broadband Speeds, a new report by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the LEAD Commission, finds that African American, Latino, low-income, and rural students are more likely to be in schools with slow Internet access (10 Mbps or less) than their peers and less likely to be in schools with the fastest-advertised Internet (100 Mbps or more).
When funding is available, the promise of digital learning in classrooms and schools is boundless. Bison School District, a small rural district, relies on technology to provide its students with necessary and enhanced learning experiences that are commonplace in more populous areas. Distance learning provides access to language instruction and advanced classes that the district would not otherwise be able to provide. Juniors and seniors access dual-credit classes in government, U.S. history and English at a university, empowering them to earn college credit before they ever step on campus.
For these students and thousands more like them, the quality of education is tightly linked to the quality and reliability of broadband Internet.
In a globally competitive economy, our schools must prepare students for the world of tomorrow with the best tools of today — and that includes better and faster access to the Internet. I’m encouraged that the FCC has taken steps toward making sure all students can benefit from all that digital learning has to offer.
Brad Seamer is the secondary principal at McCook Central Schools in Salem. He is a member of the National Association of Secondary School Principals Board of a Directors and the 2013-14 South Dakota Secondary School Principal of the Year for high schools.