SPRINGFIELD — A proposed bill would give more than 90,000 students across 100 districts in rural Illinois access to high-speed internet.
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, and Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, are sponsoring the legislation, the State Journal-Register reported.
Manar says the measure would be a one-time expense that would bridge the digital divide that puts many rural schools at a disadvantage. Schools that lack access to high speed internet can't stream educational videos, use online testing or offer remote learning.
"We expect schools and teachers to solve all of society's ills; we debate that all the time in the legislature. Yet we fail to equip them with the tools necessary to get the job done," Manar said. "With the evidence-based model now in place, this is the next logical step for us to take to bridge inequity in our public schools in the state of Illinois."
Building the fiber optic infrastructure is estimated to cost $75,000 to $420,000 per school. Funds from the state's School Infrastructure Fund, which has more than $36 million, would be used for the improvements.
The legislation would also set aside more than $16 million in state funds from the upcoming budget. It could gain as much as $50 million in matching funds from the federal government.
The legislation has the potential to also lay the groundwork for general broadband expansion in rural communities, Manar said.
A 2016 Federal Communications Commission report says 40 percent of American in rural areas don't have access to broadband internet, compared to just 4 percent lacking access in urban areas.