Arkansas moves to head of class

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - CECILE BLED­SOE Arkansas Sen­a­tor ••• Editor’s note: Arkansas Sen­a­tor Cecile Bled­soe rep­re­sents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bled­soe is chair of the Pub­lic Health, Wel­fare and La­bor Com­mit­tee.

LIT­TLE ROCK — Since 2015, when the leg­is­la­ture ap­proved Act 187 to up­grade the com­puter ca­pac­ity of pub­lic schools, Arkansas has moved to the head of the class in na­tional rank­ings.

The Arkansas Pub­lic School Com­puter Net­work can now pro­vide In­ter­net ser­vice at a rate of one megabit per sec­ond per user to 98 per­cent of the state’s schools.

That is more than any other state, ac­cord­ing to a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion called In­for­ma­tion Su­per­high­way, which works to up­grade and ex­pand com­puter ac­cess in pub­lic schools.

Act 187 re­quired ev­ery Arkansas high school, in­clud­ing char­ters, to of­fer at least one com­puter sci­ence class. It also cre­ated a task force of ed­u­ca­tors, sci­ence teach­ers and peo­ple with ex­per­tise in com­put­ers. Its duty was to en­sure that com­puter cour­ses are up to date and of the high­est cal­iber.

The act was part of the gov­er­nor’s leg­isla­tive pack­age. The progress made by Arkansas schools is even more im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing where they were be­fore 2015.

In a 2011 study, 80 per­cent of ed­u­ca­tional ad­min­is­tra­tors re­ported that their schools had prob­lems with band­width that pre­vented them from of­fer­ing com­puter and tech­nol­ogy cour­ses. They had to re­strict stu­dent ac­cess to school com­put­ers be­cause of a lack of band­width.

One prob­lem was that too many schools re­lied on cop­per lines, which had been suf­fi­cient but had be­come ob­so­lete. They were re­placed with fiber op­tic ca­bles, which can trans­mit much more data and will be able to bet­ter meet fu­ture de­mands.

Pro­vid­ing band­width in all ar­eas of the state is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it helps level the play­ing field be­tween rich and poor dis­tricts, as well as be­tween ur­ban and ru­ral dis­tricts.

Aca­demic suc­cess in the mod­ern class­room is a par­al­lel jour­ney to suc­cess later in life in the mod­ern econ­omy. Tech­ni­cal skills, par­tic­u­larly in com­put­ers and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion, are es­sen­tial.

The ex­pan­sion of broad­band ca­pac­ity re­sult­ing from Act 187 has meant that an ad­di­tional 115,000 Arkansas chil­dren have ac­cess to high speed In­ter­net.

Pro­vid­ing In­ter­net ac­cess to schools through­out Arkansas was ac­com­plished with fund­ing from fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments, as well as lo­cal school dis­tricts. They con­tracted with a coali­tion of 21 ser­vice providers.

The cost of pur­chas­ing broad­band ca­pa­bil­ity in Arkansas has been go­ing down. In 2015 it cost $14 to pro­vide 1 mbps and to­day it costs less than two dol­lars. Lower costs were a fac­tor that al­lowed Arkansas of­fi­cials to ex­pand school net­work ca­pac­ity by an av­er­age of 40 per­cent.

Govern­ment pro­grams for ex­pan­sion of band­width in schools go by a va­ri­ety of acronyms, such as E-rate 2.0, Con­nect Ed, BTOP and Ed-Fi. The fed­eral govern­ment pro­vided $30 mil­lion for In­ter­net in Arkansas schools, and there are 55 school dis­tricts that can ac­cess $8.3 mil­lion be­fore the end of the year.

Rev­enue Re­port

The Arkansas econ­omy was healthy dur­ing the first three months of the state fis­cal year, judg­ing by state gen­eral rev­enue col­lec­tions. Gross col­lec­tions were up 4.9 per­cent over the first three months of last fis­cal year.

The in­crease was driven by strong col­lec­tions of in­di­vid­ual and cor­po­rate in­come taxes, as well as sales taxes, ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tor of the state De­part­ment of Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion. In­creased rev­enue is an ac­cu­rate gauge of in­creased eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity be­cause tax rates have not gone up.

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