As a part of the Future Ready Oregon initiative, Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday the Connecting Oregon Schools Fund, which supports broadband access for rural and underserved public schools across the state.
The fund was established under HB 4023, which Brown signed into law on Friday alongside K-12 educators and service providers in Oregon.
Under the new law, the Oregon Department of Education will match the federal funding that eligible school districts receive to provide broadband access to students. This year, nine K-12 districts across the state will apply for funding from both the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate program and the Connecting Oregon Schools Fund. Together, they’ll request about $400,000 in state funding, which, with federal matching, will lead to as much as $6 million in broadband investment in rural Oregon in just the first year, a statement from the Governor’s Office said. Those funds will be used to lay up to 100 miles of new fiber-optic cable.
“The internet democratizes knowledge, and access to it needs to be as reliable for students in Elgin as it is in Eugene,” Brown said in the statement. “With the passage of this bill, we will open up digital learning opportunities in classrooms across Oregon. It’s a big step forward in making sure that our students have the tools they need to forge a path to graduation, and in closing the skills gap between the workforce we have and the workforce Oregon’s growing businesses need.”
Currently, 40 schools in Oregon lack the infrastructure necessary to realize high-speed broadband. The investment in wireless access will be critical in allowing public K-12 students to take advantage of new technologies, Brown said, and the state legislature may consider an additional $6 million in funding to ensure that all schools requiring broadband upgrades can access state and federal matching funds.
Oregon also announced a partnership with national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway to provide free technical assistance and resources to schools and education service districts taking advantage of the Connecting Oregon Schools Fund.
“Every student in Oregon deserves access to high-speed internet to achieve their educational goals,” said Mark Mulvihill, superintendent of the Intermountain Education Service District, which is associated with three of the nine districts seeking funding. “This bill is a big step forward in making those dreams a reality.”
The legislation also enables the office of the state CIO to request additional broadband services and operations to additional public bodies, including Native American tribes and communities of interest.