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Obama Calls for High Speed Broadband at Schools Throughout U.S.

President Obama called for expanding broadband access in schools nationwide Thursday, so that teachers can use technology to better educate their students. Learning Matters’ John Tulenko reported in 2011 on one North Carolina school district which was ahead of the curve on using technology in the classroom. Mooresville has now become a model for other districts. Watch the original report above or read a transcript of the story.

Updated 4:59 p.m. EDT | President Obama’s long push for expanding broadband access nationally will pick up some new momentum on Thursday with a new proposal for delivering faster broadband and high-speed wireless connections to nearly every school throughout the country.

The goal of the president’s plan is to ensure that 99 percent of students are able to access much faster connections at their schools and libraries within five years, a move that would help promote learning in the digital age and keep the U.S. more competitive with other countries, senior administration officials said Wednesday during a conference call.

White House officials, who insisted on not being named during the call, didn’t put a specific price tag on the plan, but said it would likely cost several billion dollars.

For the 2012-2013 school year, Mooresville School District distributed more than 4,000 laptops to students and staff at eight different elementary, middle and high schools.
–Mooresville Graded School District 2012-2013 annual report

To help make the case for his plan, known as ConnectED, the president is visiting a middle school in Mooresville, N.C., on Thursday. That school district has garnered major attention — including this report in 2011 by special correspondent John Tulenko — for going completely digital in its approach to education.

The administration also says it believes it can fund the program without additional funding or authorization from Congress.

The president is directing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider adjusting a program that already helps subsidize the cost of broadband for school districts and libraries. The E-rate program, as it’s called, could use savings it already has, or possibly increase monthly telephone bills by no more than 40 cents a month to subsidize the plan, administration officials said.

The additional fees would be temporary and could be approved by the FCC on its own.

While more than 90 percent of schools have a broadband connection, most educators say that their school’s Web connections are far too slow in the modern age of video and don’t work well with educational programs developed for the Web today. The aim is to give students and teachers access to connections of one gigabit per second — much faster than many home connections.

Fewer than 20 percent of educators find their school’s Web connection meets their teaching needs, according to a paper issued by the White House. The upgrade will help “transform teaching and learning in this country,” Obama administration officials said during the call.

The E-Rate program — created in 1996 as part of the federal Telecommunications Act — is designed to help schools cover technology costs and is in the mind of some, overdue for an update.

Acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn issued a statement in response to the White House Thursday in support of the president’s call for an update to the E-rate program. “Basic Internet access is no longer sufficient, and the FCC has been taking a hard look at ways to further modernize the E-Rate program to bring robust broadband to schools and libraries, especially those in low income and rural communities.”

Mooresville is not an especially affluent school district. About 40 percent of the kids receive free or reduced-price lunch. But it is considered a leader in digital-based education.

As John Tulenko reported on the NewsHour back in 2011, the district began giving laptops to every student teacher from high school down to fourth grade. The program is even wider now, giving children in kindergarten some access to computers. The district’s graduation rate has jumped above 90 percent (from 80 percent) and nearly 90 percent of students met proficiency standards for reading, math and science, according to the paper issued by the White House Wednesday.

In the paper distributed by the White House, administration officials say the Mooresville School District is now ranked third in test scores in the state and second in graduation rates. Mooresville’s success is considered even more impressive because it ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in dollars spent per student.

The new initiative comes as the president seeks to draw attention from critical hearings and stories of late . The Hill also reported earlier this week that Democrats are seeking to find new ways to appeal to rural voters before the 2014 election and the broadband plan fits very well into that goal.

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