I want to thank METN for sharing their talking points for policymakers (2015) with me. It’s an instructive sheet on what’s going on with technology in the schools today. But also it’s a great example of how to provide information to legislators. It’s brief with easy statistics and it tells the stories of how the issue impacts constituents. Policymakers are expected to have a huge breadth of knowledge and generally are pretty quick studies. Technology is difficult for many people who aren’t steeped in it daily so the details can bog someone down but I think it’s very easy to understand and appreciate the services they have described – the services that require continued funding.
BROADBAND TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACCESS FOR SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES
Minnesota schools and public libraries receive state support to help pay for the cost of high speed Internet access that remains after federal E-rate discounts have been applied. The annual appropriation for public schools is $3.75 million. For public libraries, it is $2.3 million. Currently the proration of funding is 43% as requests are over $9 million for K12 schools. To fully support school broadband needs an increase of $6 million a year for a total of $9.75 million for telecommunications/internet access equity aid is necessary to support school district connectivity.
Internet access is mission critical for schools and public libraries. Digital content, increasingly accessed over mobile devices, requires higher levels of bandwidth. Schools use the Internet in their daily operations for student instruction, food service, communications, transportation, accounting, and procurement. Public libraries need Internet access to manage collections, provide access to digital materials and research capabilities, and serve as public Internet access centers.
Use of mobile devices in schools and libraries has exploded over the past few years. This dramatic increase has severely taxed the capacities of both wireless servers and bandwidth. Minnesota schools and public libraries need to greatly expand the broadband networks serving their institutions in order to keep up with demands for access that delivers online educational content, communication, and library resources.
Broadband access is critical to schools and libraries in order to provide the following services:
- Citizens without high speed Internet access at home or who lack proficient computer skills visit their public library and use the computers to communicate, file for government services, search for employment, research special topics, and conduct personal business. Families with dial-up or low-bandwidth connections use public library Internet for projects and software that require higher bandwidth. Citizens with wireless devices sync up with the public library wireless whenever they are in the building to place and respond to ongoing calls and messages.
- Schools are increasingly creating and using digital learning resources instead of purchasing traditional textbooks. Schools are also expanding networks to allow for students to bring their own Internet enabled devices for educational purposes and are using more school-owned tablet devices in classrooms. These conditions are causing a steady increase in the amount of bandwidth needed by schools. Students also use school-owned tablets or their own mobile devices at the public library to access educational resources and complete homework after school, in the evenings and on the weekends.
- Students access distance-learning opportunities from post-secondary education institutions, other Minnesota K-12 schools, and online learning programs. Broadband connections are used to provide post-secondary, advanced placement, and foreign language classes which otherwise are unavailable to rural students.
- Public library customers use online systems (MNLINK) to access books and materials through interlibrary loan, effectively making all the resources of all Minnesota libraries available to customers statewide.
- Institutions such as museums, historical societies, zoos, and other centers of culture provide interactive learning opportunities to students through “field trips” using broadband connections and videoconferencing. These experiences provide 21st century learning opportunities to students in rural areas who might otherwise miss out because of the high costs of long-distance visits. Hearing a Holocaust survivor’s first hand story or getting a lesson from a professional musician and even watching a live knee replacement surgery are all available to students through broadband access.
- Citizens interested in computer-related technologies depend on public libraries to provide education and training on a variety of tools and applications such as videoconferencing, web cams, GPS systems, digital cameras, presentation tools, and electronic reading devices, smartphones and tablets.
- Parents use school districts’ broadband connections to access information from district databases on their child’s educational progress and achievement, manage lunch accounts, and participate in the school community.
- Schools use broadband and cloud services to conduct their daily business using cloud-based classroom documents and communication tools. Schools are increasingly looking to web-based applications to manage finances, report required data to the state and federal government, and connect with the local community.
- Students in school library media centers and citizens in public libraries use resources found in the Electronic Library for Minnesota (ELM), and thousands of e-books, including electronic textbooks, through NetLibrary, the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum, and other sources. Public libraries provide access to downloadable audiobooks and ebooks, as well as electronic magazines, from remote locations to customer devices.
- Internet-based audio and videoconferencing technology is used to connect educators, librarians and peers across the globe. Students, teachers, librarians and administrators use broadband access to collaborate on curriculum development and library applications, conduct meetings, participate in professional development, and access information beyond the geographic and resource limitations of their communities.