Amid some confusion about why, an initiative to upgrade high-speed internet access at public schools across Louisiana was shelved earlier this year.
Now, after eight months, Gov. John Bel Edwards says that the state will work with a national nonprofit, EducationSuperHighway, a California organization focused on improving internet access in public schools nationwide.
We hope that this will have a more fruitful outcome than earlier, when the initiative led by the higher education community died from what state officials called a lack of interest from local school systems. The association of school boards, representing officials who run most local schools, said there was concern about hidden costs and long-term commitments. Deadlines were short for making decisions, local officials said.
The addition of a sort of honest broker in the form of EducationSuperHighway, a foundation-funded project, should be a way for all the interested parties to get together on a plan. The group is working with governors in 23 states.
EducationSuperHighway is funded by national philanthropic organizations, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its work is free to the state.
The problem? Nearly 164,000 students around the state should be connected to the minimum recommended bandwidth, a goal already met for most students in public schools. There is a federally provided "e-rate" discount for educational and library connections.
According to state figures, nearly 450,000 students in 61 of the 69 public school districts in the state are meeting the current standards. Making connections available for the remainder is a valuable addition for schools and their students. That is as true in rural areas as it is in the cities.
“If we expect them to compete for 21st-century jobs, then we must provide our children with a high-quality, 21st-century education, which most certainly includes access to broadband and the digital opportunities that come with it," the governor said in a statement.
He is right, and we hope any obstacles — physical, financial or bureaucratic — can be addressed by this new version of the Board of Regents initiative shelved in March.
The plan spelled out by the governor will provide districts with technical assistance, tools and resources to help them plan network upgrades and obtain the maximum federal funds available.
We hope that this works out, as internet access is hardly a luxury for schools and libraries across the state. It is a necessity.