SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has released a notice of funding opportunity/request for proposals (NOFO/RFP) for pending state funds to expand internet connectivity in schools. The funds would reimburse school districts for the cost of upgrading their broadband infrastructure to fiber optic technology.
Nearly 90,000 students in 106 school districts in Illinois do not have bandwidth sufficient to engage in digital learning, according to estimates provided by the national nonprofit organization EducationSuperHighway. Fiber optic technology delivers the most affordable and fastest network speeds to schools and allows districts to scale cost-effectively to meet growing bandwidth needs in the future.
“A quality education today absolutely includes high-speed internet access," said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D. “We need to cultivate a skilled workforce for Illinois to attract businesses and compete in the global economy. The one-time cost of upgrading to fiber opens up limitless opportunities to use free online resources, teach coding, and integrate technology across the curriculum. The state's investment today is essential to preparing all students for the jobs of tomorrow and fueling our growth as a state."
The Illinois Classroom Connectivity Initiative works with school districts across the state to accelerate bandwidth upgrades through a partnership with state agencies and EducationSuperHighway. The initiative has helped 756 Illinois school districts, which educate more than 1.2 million students, meet the 100 kbps per student minimum connectivity goal. EducationSuperHighway connects districts to competitive service provider options and helps districts take advantage of the discounts offered through the Federal Communications Commission's E-rate program. School districts can contact EducationSuperHighway for free support and consultation. The Learning Technology Centers of Illinois also provide districts with free workshops and support for E-Rate applications.
In addition to discounts ranging from 20 to 90 percent of the costs of internet installation, the E-rate program provides federal funds to match up to 10 percent of districts' total fiber optic construction costs – if Illinois provides matching state funds. ISBE intends to include a request for $6.3 million in its FY 2019 budget recommendations to the General Assembly in January for state matching funds to enable Illinois school districts to capture these unprecedented federal funds, which are only available through 2018.
Illinois' eligibility depends on fiscal year 2019 appropriations from the General Assembly, but districts must apply now for the pending state funds to ensure adequate time for both the state and federal applications. Responses to the NOFO/RFP must be received in the ISBE offices no later than 3 p.m. Feb. 9, 2018. School districts can access the NOFO/RFP on the Broadband Information page on the ISBE website. Districts submitting proposals will also need to complete FCC Form 470 by the early spring deadline and provide documentation of eligibility for the federal match in their FCC Form 471.