$993,780 approved for Ark. school internet study

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Legislative Council has approved a $993,780 contract to assess broadband access, equipment and connectivity at every school in the state.

The contract with CT&T Inc. of North Little Rock will begin immediately and the findings are due back to the Legislature by December, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1mn6cAr ).

The council also approved a $149,500 sole-source contract with Camelot Global Services of Philadelphia to study the operations of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery and make recommendations on how to increase scholarship revenue.

Both contracts have drawn scrutiny from some state legislators over the past week during Legislative Council subcommittee meetings, but Friday's approval authorizes work to begin.

"There have been numerous committee meetings in which data has been presented to the Legislature. Over the last four months, a good majority of that data has proven to be suspect or in some cases inaccurate," said Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, who has championed the need for the independent broadband study.

"There are a lot of outside groups putting a tremendous amount of pressure on members to make decisions," Gillam said.

Legislators have been fighting over how to move forward with increasing high-speed broadband internet access at the state's schools for more than a year. The conversation has shifted to become a part of the state's educational adequacy plan because the gap in technological access may be creating a gap in educational opportunities, some districts have argued.

Lack of access to broadband has started to cause problems for schools in Arkansas as more standardized tests are moved to online formats. Act 1280 of 2013, passed by the Legislature, also requires that every school district provide at least one interactive online course beginning this fall.

Several studies have been conducted by groups appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe or the Legislature, but the validity of those studies has been both touted and questioned by various groups that have failed over the past six months to reach a consensus on whether the solution should focus on a state-managed network or rely on private providers to bridge the gap in connectivity.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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