Sunday, Jul 24, 2016
It’s always good to go back home. This summer, I’ll be returning to the small town in Northwest Arkansas where I grew up to reconnect with friends and family and to enjoy the memories of my youth. Growing up in Gravette has helped me to appreciate the value of the close-knit community that small towns often produce.
When I return home, I am reminded of the importance of continuing to invest in these smaller communities that may sometimes be overlooked. One of the best ways we can invest in our state’s small communities is to work hard to provide the best educational resources, particularly by ensuring that these communities have access to broadband Internet. Over the past 10 years access to the Internet has transitioned from a luxury to a necessity, and communities that lack access are at risk of falling further behind.
Forty years ago, the world was very different. Growing up, I recall taking trips to the library and sifting through card catalogs to find information for my school projects, but today, most students research information online or through a digital library catalog. Methods of education are constantly evolving along with the development of new technology. Technological advancements have provided students, teachers and communities with vast resources for research and study. The Internet provides massive amounts of information at the click of a button.
But for students living in rural areas, online research may not be so simple. Much of the time, small towns in rural Arkansas have difficulty accessing online information simply due to a lack of broadband connectivity.
As Governor, it is my objective to eliminate hurdles that limit opportunity and affect the quality of our schools and communities.
For example, tasks like applying for jobs and signing up for health care coverage now require an internet connection. Public safety, economic development, business, education and health care are all significant factors in the economic growth and quality of life within a community.
This is why, last year, the Arkansas Department of Education, the Department of Information Systems and myself set a goal for 100 percent of K-12 public schools in Arkansas to have sufficient high-speed, secure and state funded broadband access.
In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission issued an internet-access target of 100 kilobits per second per student in public schools. In Arkansas, we have doubled that standard, so that we will provide access to 200 kilobits per second per student in 100% of Arkansas public schools. As I visit communities across the state this year, I am encouraged that even the smallest towns in rural Arkansas are closer to having access to broadband internet service available in their communities.
In September 2015, Fort Smith became the first school district in the state to connect to the upgraded high-speed network, called the Arkansas Public School Computer Network. Since then, hundreds of Arkansas schools have followed suit, and every week, another half-dozen schools get connected. Today, nearly 80 percent of the state’s schools now either meet or exceed the FCC’s Internet access target, ranking the state at 21st in the nation for broadband connectivity. Soon our state will be one of only three states with 100 percent K-12 broadband connectivity.
This is excellent news for education in both small towns and thriving cities in Arkansas. Arkansas is preparing our students for a greater future. As educational opportunities improve throughout the state, so will other opportunities improve for economic growth, health care and community development. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”