The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet is investing $8 million to help create affordable internet access for low-income families of K-12 students in areas without service, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced Tuesday.
Coleman, who also serves as secretary of the cabinet, said by Sept. 15, through a request for proposal, the cabinet will identify internet service providers that will supply high-speed internet service for all K-12 students in low-income homes at no more than $10 per month for the next two to three school years.
“COVID-19 has certainly created its own set of challenges, but it has compounded old ones,” Coleman said. “One of those old challenges that Kentucky continues to face is the digital divide that impacts our kids often in low-income communities.”
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Five percent of Kentucky’s K-12 students — or about 32,000 children — do not have internet access at their homes or do not live near places that do have internet access, according to Coleman.
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The cabinet will be working with the Kentucky Department of Education, the Finance and Administration Cabinet and the Commonwealth Office of Technology, according to Coleman.
As part of the project, the family of any K-12 student who is currently without internet access will be eligible to have the $10 per month service paid for through the $8 million investment, which is backed up by federal CARES funding given to Gov. Andy Beshear’s office.
Low-income families of K-12 students who currently have internet access are eligible to have almost all the $10 per month paid for by the federal Lifeline program for the next two to three school years.
The broadband connection’s “last mile,” a term used to describe bringing internet service to final destinations, like homes and businesses, will be established through wireless options like hot spots connected to students’ cell phones, satellite and fixed wireless capabilities. It also includes wired options, like traditional services for cable, telephone and utility companies.
Details for how to apply and who is eligible will be posted on the department of education’s website at education.ky.gov early next week, according to Coleman.
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“I want to say thank you to all of the agencies who worked together to close the digital divide for Kentucky students, and this is a great example of what Team Kentucky can do when we come together for our kids,” Colemean said.
Coleman’s announcement comes as a majority of Kentucky’s school districts, following the recommendation of Beshear, are conducting virtual learning for students and will continue to do so until late September amid the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked if the initiative will connect to the commonwealth’s KentuckyWired project, a nearly $1.5 billion plan to create a “middle mile” network by hanging more than 3,000 miles of fiber-optic cable in every Kentucky county, Beshear said it will not, as “there’s still not the capacity for KentuckyWired to reach individual families.”
Beshear added that KentuckyWired is “absolutely critical” for the future of education and agriculture in the commonwealth, as private internet service providers do not always invest in under-served areas.
“Everybody’s going to want to come in and put down fiber in Louisville because there’s a huge market and you can make money,” Beshear said. “But some of the most rural parts of our state, the dollars, the profit margin isn’t always going to be there (for the private sector.)”
Background: KentuckyWired promised broadband and high-tech jobs. Will it ever deliver?
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky pledges $8 million to create affordable internet access for K-12 students