Lolo School gets broadband boost through state, national programs

Gov. Steve Bullock joined Woodman School students and officials in Lolo on Wednesday to celebrate the approval of a $2 million investment to give Montana schools an opportunity to enhance broadband and develop 21st century classrooms.

The funding, included in House Bill 390, creates a state match to leverage broadband funds available through the Federal Communication Commission. The funds will enable schools like Woodman to upgrade their broadband to facilitate digital learning in the classroom.

“Providing our students with access to high-quality digital learning helps set them up for success in our increasingly digital world,” Bullock said. “As a predominantly rural state, we need to work even harder to make sure that our students have the high-speed Internet that they need to flourish.”

The bill that includes the funds provides K-12 schools with $2 million in funding over the next two years to upgrade their broadband infrastructure. When leveraged with funding from the FCC, it could trigger up to $20 million in broadband investment for schools.

“This investment is the result of collaboration between state government, the service provider and school communities, and will bring us even closer to closing the connectivity gap in our state’s schools,” Bullock said.

Montana has helped school districts statewide make significant technology upgrades in the past few years. In 2016, more than 15,000 students were connected to high-speed broadband, while 118 school districts upgraded their Internet service.

In addition, 90 percent of school districts in Montana in 2016 met the FCC’s minimum connectivity goal of 100 kilobits per second for each student. That’s up from just 78 percent in 2015.

“Woodman Elementary School has devoted countless hours and dollars to solving our connectivity issues, including maximizing our internal capabilities with little impact on upload and download speeds,” said Erin Lipkind, superintendent of Missoula County schools. “I am excited for the academic opportunities broadband will offer our students.”

Bullock said the bill providing the funding serves as a continuation of the Montana School Broadband Project, which launched in 2015 in a collaboration between state offices and a national nonprofit focused on improving Internet speed and access in classroms.

One of those partners, the EducationSuperHighway, committed to connecting every K-12 classroom in the state to high-speed Internet in order to support digital learning and equal opportunities for all Montana students.

“We’ve been working closely with Gov. Bullock since 2015, and the signing of HB 390 into law is a huge step forward for the many schools in Montana that don’t have access to high-speed broadband,” said Evan Marwell, CEO at EducationSuperHighway.