The S.C. Education Oversight Committee wants state lawmakers to spend $30 million next year on technology to improve wireless access in school buildings across the state.
The request, said members of the state’s education research and accountability arm, comes as public school districts increasingly set goals to give every student a computer or wireless device, and as testing and classroom instruction move online.
The request is about $20 million more than lawmakers have been spending on internet technology.
The General Assembly has spent $10 million annually for the last five years to increase internet bandwidth in school buildings, many of which have hard-wired internet access.
Going wireless requires an investment in more expensive technology, said Melanie Barton, the Oversight Committee’s executive director.
Outfitting every school in the state with wireless would cost about $97 million, based on a rough estimate, she said. Some school districts already have wireless access but may need other technology, such as more wireless devices, Barton said.
To fill those needs, the committee may ask lawmakers to spend $30 million for the next few years as well, Barton said.
“It’s going to take a lot more money than that, maybe up to $30 million a year, for the next few years,” Barton said. “We need to figure out where we are and where we need to be in technology.”
The increased spending on technology would help ensure school districts across the state have adequate internet access, she said. It is unclear how many schools currently do.
A study evaluating the technology needs of every school district in the state currently is underway. No “hard data” is available yet, Barton said.
However, teachers and administrators have identified technology and classroom internet as top priorities, she said.
The Education Oversight Committee makes recommendations to the General Assembly on how to spend money generated from a statewide one-cent sales tax for education. That fund is expected to have an additional $18 million to spend next year, Barton said.
About $10 million of the proposed $30 million would come from that increased revenue. Lawmakers would have to figure out where to find the other $20 million, she said.
Oversight Committee board member Dennis Drew said the wireless technology is a “critical need.”
“Just as we as a society have moved toward wireless devices, schools no longer need hard-wired ports in the classroom.”
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