Gov. John Hickenlooper has long articulated a vision for Colorado’s economic future that hews closely to the performance of the state’s public schools.
Create the nation’s No. 1 education system and you accomplish two goals: You prepare our children for high-skill, high-paying jobs and you attract entrepreneurs looking for a high quality of life, including the education their kids will receive here.
We advocated for passage of Amendment 66, a ballot measure to raise income taxes. It would have raised close to $1 billion a year for schools, but voters rejected it by a 2-to-1 margin in November.
It raised the question: Do we view education as an expense or an investment?
The impact of technology on education grows by the day. Computer literacy is an expectation of today’s high school graduates. But Colorado’s vast rural populations don’t have equal access to broadband Internet service. It’s an infrastructure problem, but with widely felt impacts on education.
The EAGLE-Net Alliance has made strides to level the playing field, but with uneven results. As the Daily Sentinel’s Bob Silbernagel reported, the alliance was awarded a $100.6 million federal stimulus grant in 2010 to build a broadband network for the state’s school districts.
Last September the Colorado Legislative Audit Committee held hearings on the alliance, its spending and why it was 17 months behind schedule.
And now the state Legislature may get involved further at the behest of Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy and lobbying organization. Club 20 has been working with Rep. Don Coram, Sen. Gail Schwartz and other lawmakers to introduce a bill that would tap a telecommunication fund created in the 1990s to, among other things, deliver broadband service to isolated parts of the state.
The State Educational Technology Directors Association , a nationwide group, notes that state governments are key to leveraging resources with higher education, local telecommunications companies and the federal government in providing high-speed Internet service, which is becoming more intertwined with curriculum and outcomes. SETDA recommends that schools and districts provide 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) per 1,000 students/staff by the 2017-18 school year.
That’s a tall order, considering that many urban centers don’t offer such speeds. But it’s becoming a serious detriment to economic growth. National Public Radio’s Joel Rose examined the issue this week, noting that many cities are clamoring for high-speed fiber optic networks, but most private broadband providers are hesitant to make the investment until consumer demand makes it economically feasible.
Rather than waiting for federal grants or private industry to save the day, the city of Chattanooga, Tenn. took matters into its own hands. The city’s publicly owned electric company recently spent some $300 million on a new fiber-optic network. Chattanooga’s mayor, Andy Berke, says the high speeds are helping attract new businesses to his city.
“If, as a country, we’re going to participate in this next round of innovation, we have to make sure the infrastructure exists,” Berke told Rose.
The shift to technology-rich learning will only expose more gaps in our infrastructure. We hope the Legislature can find a resourceful way to make sure schools throughout the state have equal access to the opportunities technology affords us.
With sufficient bandwidth, technology is no longer supplemental enrichment, but a dependable tool that has become a cornerstone of economic opportunity.