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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Progress Report on State Efforts to Upgrade School Technology Infrastructure

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
Date:
January 12, 2018

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Since the 2014-2015 school year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) and the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (TSS) have jointly administered the Digital Connections Partnership Schools (DCPS) grant program to help schools upgrade their wireless (Wi-Fi) networks for next-generation learning and teaching. The Department and TSS have also been working with EducationSuperHighway (ESH), a national nonprofit, to help districts gain access to high-speed broadband or increase the affordability of their existing broadband connection. Kenneth Klau, our Director of Digital Learning, has compiled this report on state efforts to upgrade school technology infrastructure.

Wi-Fi

Chapter 257 of the Acts of 2014 authorized up to $38 million in state bond funds to upgrade public schools for next-generation learning and teaching. Through the DCPS program, the state pays for 100 percent of the Wi-Fi upgrade costs; a local match of between 30-70 percent of the total project cost must be spent on any combination of devices, professional development, or assistive technology. The $4.7 million authorized for use over the first three fiscal years of the program (FY2015, 2016, and 2017) funded projects that benefited 59,662 students and 4,331 educators in 113 schools. Communities matched this investment with approximately $3.4 million from local, private, and federal funding streams.

In FY2018, the Department and TSS received applications to fund the remaining 90 schools with Wi-Fi needs. With $1.652 million in current funding, the program will be able to upgrade approximately 34 schools serving 14,941 students and 1,177 teachers, and leverage approximately $709,225 in local funds. To meet the full demand, an additional $4.024 million in state bond funds would be required. That level of funding would benefit an additional 31,626 students and 2,292 educators in 56 schools, and leverage approximately $1.694 million in matching funds. The Department and TSS are working closely with the Executive Office of Education (EOE) and the Executive Office of Administration and Finance (ANF) to secure additional funding. The goal is to upgrade all schools with a declared need by no later than FY2019, by which time the DCPS program will have impacted about 1 in 10 students in the Commonwealth.

High-Speed Broadband

In 2015, the Department and TSS began a partnership with ESH to help all districts gain access to affordable, high-speed broadband (usually fiber). Since this partnership began, ESH has provided direct consultation to 87 districts in upgrading to fiber (48 districts), increasing existing bandwidth (15 districts), and general upgrade support, such as obtaining better pricing from internet service providers (24 districts).

EducationSuperHighway is also working with a subset of districts to explore the possibility of connecting to high-speed broadband in places where it does not currently exist. This support consists of helping districts file for federal E-rate reimbursements to offset the installation costs. As an incentive, the Department is offering to fund the equivalent of 10 percent of the project cost with DCPS funds, thereby triggering an additional 10 percent investment from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which administers the E-rate program. As of this writing, one district has passed the rigorous process to receive these funds.

Other Updates

The Department and its partners continue to help districts make use of resources available to them from state, federal, and other sources:

  • The Department provides information and support in helping districts maximize the savings they can obtain through the E-rate program, which provides discounts on eligible Wi-Fi and broadband projects. Since FY2016, districts have received approximately $62 million in federal reimbursements, with an additional $45 million committed. As needed, the Department coordinates with staff from U.S. Senator Ed Markey's office to help districts resolve E-rate reimbursement issues with the FCC (Senator Markey was the House author of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which created the E-rate program).
  • Through the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Edtech Consortium (MAPLE), a public-private partnership between the Department and the nonprofit LearnLaunch Institute, all districts (including DCPS recipients) are eligible to receive training and support in leveraging their infrastructure for next-generation learning and teaching.
  • Since 2015, MassDevelopment, an economic development and finance agency established by the Massachusetts Legislature, has provided loans to 26 charter schools to purchase and install technology equipment, among other capital costs.
  • Last year, in partnership with the Department of Telecommunications and Cable, the Department, TSS and ESH convened the Commonwealth's internet service providers to build awareness of state-supported efforts to provide K-12 schools with access to affordable broadband.
  • Both the state's Operational Services Division and the Massachusetts Higher Education Collaborative have negotiated statewide contracts for school technology. The Department continues to encourage districts to leverage these contracts, jointly procure technology resources when possible, and consider more sustainable financing strategies, such as leasing, when beneficial.
  • The Massachusetts School Building Authority has committed $10 in interest-free loans to help finance the cost of technology upgrades. So far, no districts have applied for loans. Additional outreach is planned this year.

Preparing our schools to administer online assessments was an important goal for these programs, but not the primary driver; rather, they are about helping schools rethink the structure and delivery of learning, build more student-centered educational systems, and create the next generation of K-12 learning environments. More information about these initiatives is posted on the Department's website relating to digital learning.



Last Updated: January 18, 2018
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