(Phoenix, Ariz., March 14, 2017) – In order to expand K-12 Internet access, affordability and student digital learning opportunities in schools across the state, most notably in rural areas, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas today applauded the funding of the Arizona Broadband for Education Initiative.
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) voted this morning to approve the one-time expansion of the existing Arizona Universal Service Fund (AUSF) to assist in the state matching investment of this program. The new grant will allow Arizona to receive ten dollars of funding for every dollar the state invests into the initiative.
Ultimately, the project could bring hundreds of millions of dollars in services to the state.
“Equal access to broadband services is critical to the success of a child’s education in the 21st century,” Superintendent Douglas said. “This program is an incredible opportunity for underserved children from small schools in rural parts of Arizona to have the same technology opportunities that are afforded to other children in the state.”
Last March, Arizona was one of the few states to be awarded the 2016 K-12 Broadband and Digital Learning Policy Academy grant through a partnership between the National Governor’s Association (NGA) Center, EducationSuperHighway (ESH) and the K-12 Broadband and Digital Learning Policy Academy.
“I commend my staff at the Department for making this opportunity a reality for so many students in rural areas,” Superintendent Douglas said. “My Public Information Officer, Stefan Swiat, wrote the grant application that enabled Arizona to have this opportunity, while State E-Rate Controller Milan Eaton has worked tirelessly to sign up as many schools as possible. My staff and I look forward to implementing this incredible program, which will bring tangible resources to rural students, schools and communities throughout the state.”
Designed to help support and guide states seeking to provide nearly every student with access to high-speed Internet, Wi-Fi access and enhanced digital learning, the NGA, ESH and Policy Academy will provide Arizona with advice and support on best practices in education, as well as help inform the scope and structure of the implementation process.
A thorough review estimates that the state match for this program may range from $8-13 million and that internet connectivity projects may span more than two years and benefit nearly 100,000 Arizona students. The state investment will draw down significant E-rate funds, which, in a majority of school systems, may pay for the entire cost of infrastructure construction.
To accomplish the state match, Commissioner Tobin and the ACC proposed establishing a new program which uses the AUSF fund to provide a portion of the state matching funds. A one-time distribution of $8 million from the existing AUSF would serve as the large portion of the state’s match, supporting telecommunications carriers which serve in high-cost areas of rural Arizona.
Since the grant was awarded, the Superintendent and Arizona Department of Education staff have worked to ensure participation from schools throughout the state. All 15 counties already have a school moving forward with this initiative, and as many as 200 school districts and charter schools have applied for broadband services.
“While the Arizona Department of Education has provided the technological expertise, support and one-on-one engagement on this program, the Corporation Commission has taken the lead financially to ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime initiative is funded,” Superintendent Douglas added. “Although I would have preferred that the funding come from the general fund, I am pleased that so many students will reap the technological benefits of broadband such as online classes and digital learning access, as well as the ability to conduct state-of-the-art STEM experiments.”