Putting Education Reform To The Test

Report: It Will Cost $3.2 Billion To Upgrade Schools To Wireless Internet

To meet requirements for online testing and digital instruction, schools are considering laptop carts like this for classrooms.

alicegop / Flickr

To meet requirements for online testing and digital instruction, schools are considering laptop carts like this for classrooms.

President Barack Obama’s proposal to equip nearly every school with high-speed wireless Internet will cost $800 million per year — $3.2 billion total by the 2018 deadline — according to a new estimate given to the Federal Communications Commission.

The initiative is important to Florida schools for two reasons. First, schools are switching to new online tests tied to Florida’s Common Core-based standards. Florida already requires online testing, but the new test will expand the number of exams given each year.

Second, Florida lawmakers have required half of all instruction to be digitally delivered when classes begin in 2015.

Most schools have found the best way to accomplish those goals is with wireless networks and more laptops or other portable computers. But many Florida schools will need to be rewired, and districts will have to purchase or lease additional computers.

Orange County schools estimate it will cost roughly $280 million to upgrade their schools. Hamilton County schools superintendent Tom Moffses estimates it will cost $3.6 million for the 1,700-student district between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

Some of the funding for the program will be local. Orange County schools are asking voters to reauthorize a tax to help pay for the digital upgrades.

Some of the funding will be from the state. Lawmakers approved $40 million in the state budget beginning July 1, and every school district will receive at least $250,000. A longer term goal would set aside at least $100 million a year for bandwidth and devices.

But most of the funding could come from the federal E-Rate program, which helps schools and libraries purchase Internet access. The program is funded through a fee on phone services. School districts are awarded grants based on need and demographics.

The FCC is working on modernizing the E-Rate program right now so that grants can better meet school needs. Right now, E-Rate puts the highest priority on grants to bring Internet access to a facility.

But advocates are asking more priority be put on projects to bolster Internet networks inside of schools and libraries. Some school officials say they can get high-speed Internet to the school, but thick walls and high demand mean wireless access inside the school can be spotty.

You check out how well your school district is meeting Internet and technology recommendations at the Florida Department of Education’s Readiness Gauge.

Update: Here’s another estimate that pegs the cost as even higher — $7.7 billion.


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