In October of this year, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released its first comprehensive broadband connectivity report. The 2017 K-12 Learning Infrastructure Program (KLIP) Broadband Connectivity Capability Survey (BCCS) report can be found on the VDOE’s KLIP Web page. Both a full and one page report is now available. It is Important to note that the report represents only one set of known data in which the department uses to better understand the technology landscape in Virginia’s public schools, monitor our progress, and identify areas of need for additional analysis and resources.
So, an important question to raise is: What were Virginia’s K-12 broadband connectivity achievements in 2017? With the help of EducationSuperHighway data, we found that the percentage of school buildings connected to fiber increased from 82% in 2014 to 99% in 2017. And, nationally, this places Virginia in the top 29 states with school buildings connected to fiber (EducationSuperHighway (ESH) 2018 State of the States (SOS). An increase in fiber connections also helped us achieve one of our KLIP goals of getting fiber to the schools that need it. As a state, we further achieved the 2014 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 100 kbps per student connectivity targets with many school divisions surpassing this target! Again, Virginia is one of the top 27 states meeting the minimum bandwidth targets set forth by the FCC (ESH 2018 SOS). Another significant broadband achievement came from school divisions that were approved for E-rate and Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA) matching funds to build their own fiber networks. The reason this is a significant achievement is because of the complexity of the E-rate application for self-provisioning and what it actually takes for schools to construct this type of network. The divisions that constructed their own networks saved thousands of dollars while scaling to very high bandwidth!
As a state, we have also achieved more affordable Internet pricing. As the demand for more bandwidth increased, the price decreased. We view this as a positive indicator of the direction that the telecommunications industry is taking in education and school technology leaders negotiating for better pricing using price transparency tools (see Compare and Connect K-12). Because of the decrease in bandwidth pricing, we are making progress toward meeting another KLIP goal of helping divisions secure more bandwidth for their budgets. Although the affordability data is trending in a positive direction, we still have concerns about rural school divisions paying more for Internet access because of the geography and lack of provider competition. The VDOE is addressing these concerns and we are working with the new state Chief Broadband Advisor to the governor on rural broadband. Additionally, the data in the BCCS report suggest that more resources are needed to support network infrastructure and information security needs. We are seeking support and funding from the VDOE and budget processes for these requests.
The VDOE also wanted to learn more about what divisions could tell us about student Internet access at home. A map in the report depicts how divisions responded to the question about the extent to which a lack of Internet access at home is limiting teaching and learning. To learn more about this issue, I have been contacting technology directors to find out more about the challenges you face and the solutions deployed in addressing out of school Internet access for students. You should be hearing more from the VDOE as we plan to develop strategies around digital equity.
Another significant achievement is our partnership with VSTE to establish the KLIP Work Group (WG). The purpose of the KLIP WG is to provide the VDOE with input, feedback, and guidance, on broadband connectivity issues. The entire list of members of the WG are listed on the KLIP web page. It includes school division technology directors, Internet and Wi-Fi service providers, the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), the Library of Virginia, private technology companies, and Virginia Tech. Technology directors from each of the eight Superintendent’s Regions were selected to participate on the WG (see below). The WG assisted us in developing the 2018 KLIP BCCS. The report on the data collected from this survey will be available sometime next year. The WG also provided input into the topics and sessions offered at the annual Leading Ed Forum. The VDOE encourages greater regional collaboration among division technology directors. This will provide a conduit for the KLIP WG to provide your input into state discussions about bandwidth, Wi-Fi, Leading Ed conference topics, and other priority areas.
School Division Technology Directors participating on the KLIP Work Group:
Region 1: Timothy Ampy, Dinwiddie County Public Schools
Region 2: John Littlefield, Suffolk County Public Schools
Region 3: Vacant
Region 4: A.J. Phillips, Prince William County Public Schools
Region 5: Kevin Perkins, Rockingham County Public Schools
Region 6: Dan Smith, Roanoke City Public Schools
Region 7: Scott Kiser, Wise County Public Schools
Region 8: Brook Hatcher, Mecklenburg County Public Schools
We should be proud that Virginia continues to make significant progress in meeting federal Internet targets and state KLIP goals. We should also be proud to be in the top states in a national report for getting almost all of our school buildings connected to fiber. All of the state’s achievement markers can be contributed to your technology leadership and commitment to supporting an increasingly digital education environment. Lastly, any constructive feedback on broadband or infrastructure issues, concerns, or ideas and suggestions are welcome and can be directed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (804) 786-9281.
Dr. Susan M. Clair, Learning Infrastructure Coordinator, VDOE