When asked if he though the private option was going to be the 2014 Fiscal Session’s "main event," Joint Budget Committee Chairman Larry Teague (D-Nashville) said "no."
The fireworks are likely to come from the private option, but according to Teague, "the main event is always K-12."
Gov. Mike Beebe requested a supplemental appropriation of $10 million last week to fund a matching-funds grant program to extend broadband internet connectivity to rural schools.
The money comes from unallocated surplus funds, and would provide a 1:1 match for schools without broadband Internet. High-speed Internet connections will be necessary to implement the Common Core educational guidelines being phased into Arkansas schools. Common Core standards were recommended by the Arkansas Board of Education in 2010 and adopted by the Legislature in 2011.
Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) said that the $10 million match-grant is "a good step in an ongoing process" to get high-speed Internet to all Arkansas schools that need it — a project which has been estimated to cost between $100 million and $200 million.
Rep. David Meeks (R-Conway) said that broadband is worth having in Arkansas schools independent of Common Core.
"I think it’s good that we have it, but again we have other priorities like corrections and foster care," Meeks said. "We need to think about making sure that those are funded, and if they are, then yes, I would definitely take a look at broadband in our schools."
"Common Core could be its own [newspaper] article," added Meeks, who spoke before the House in opposition to Common Core during last year’s regular session. "In some of our rural schools they don’t have the bandwidth for kids to get online and do what they need to do. … It takes quite a bit of bandwidth to take [Common Core online] tests, and a lot of our schools don’t have the capacity to do it."
Rep. Steve Magie (D-Conway) said that he also supported expanding broadband internet in Arkansas schools.
"Broadband access to some school districts is very limited and it’s very expensive," Magie said. "There are estimates of between $100 and $200 million to develop the infrastructure to put broadband in every school … and we’re trying to gauge just what the participation might be. All that being said, there’s still the estimate that we’ll need 10 times as much to do it."
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)