Since 2015, when the legislature approved Act 187 to upgrade the computer capacity of public schools, Arkansas has moved to the head of the class in national rankings.
The Arkansas Public School Computer Network can now provide Internet service at a rate of one megabit per second per user to 98 percent of the state’s schools.
That is more than any other state, according to a non-profit organization called Information Superhighway, which works to upgrade and expand computer access in public schools.
Act 187 required every Arkansas high school, including charters, to offer at least one computer science class. It also created a task force of educators, science teachers and people with expertise in computers. Its duty was to ensure that computer courses are up to date and of the highest caliber.
The act was part of the governor’s legislative package. The progress made by Arkansas schools is even more impressive considering where they were before 2015.
In a 2011 study, 80 percent of educational administrators reported that their schools had problems with bandwidth that prevented them from offering computer and technology courses. They had to restrict student access to school computers because of a lack of bandwidth.
One problem was that too many schools relied on copper lines, which had been sufficient but had become obsolete. They were replaced with fiber optic cables, which can transmit much more data and will be able to better meet future demands.
Providing bandwidth in all areas of the state is significant because it helps level the playing field between rich and poor districts, as well as between urban and rural districts.
Academic success in the modern classroom is a parallel journey to success later in life in the modern economy. Technical skills, particularly in computers and telecommunication, are essential.
The expansion of broadband capacity resulting from Act 187 has meant that an additional 115,000 Arkansas children have access to high speed Internet.
Providing Internet access to schools throughout Arkansas was accomplished with funding from federal and state governments, as well as local school districts. They contracted with a coalition of 21 service providers.
The cost of purchasing broadband capability in Arkansas has been going down. In 2015 it cost $14 to provide 1 mbps and today it costs less than two dollars. Lower costs were a factor that allowed Arkansas officials to expand school network capacity by an average of 40 percent.
Government programs for expansion of bandwidth in schools go by a variety of acronyms, such as E-rate 2.0, Connect Ed, BTOP and Ed-Fi. The federal government provided $30 million for Internet in Arkansas schools, and there are 55 school districts that can access $8.3 million before the end of the year.
The Arkansas economy was healthy during the first three months of the state fiscal year, judging by state general revenue collections. Gross collections were up 4.9 percent over the first three months of last fiscal year.
The increase was driven by strong collections of individual and corporate income taxes, as well as sales taxes, according to the director of the state Department of Finance and Administration. Increased revenue is an accurate gauge of increased economic activity because tax rates have not gone up.