Legislature(2019 - 2020)SENATE FINANCE 532
04/24/2019 09:00 AM FINANCE
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SENATE BILL NO. 74 "An Act relating to funding for Internet services for school districts." 9:38:09 AM MARIDON BOARIO, STAFF, SENATOR LYMAN HOFFMAN, discussed the sponsor statement for SB 74 (version S) (copy on file): SB 74 increases the broadband requirement for schools from 10 megabits per second (Mbps) to 25 Mbps of download speed and provides funding to help schools reach the 25 Mbps through the School Broadband Assistance Grant (BAG). Districts that qualify for discounted rate for internet services under the Federal Universal Services Program are eligible. The Universal Service Administrative Company, Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as "E-rate," provides discounts of up to 90 percent to help eligible schools and libraries in the United States obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access. The School BAG was established in 2014 and created to assist schools to reach internet download speeds of 10 Mbps. Currently the grant funds may be used to cover eligible costs incurred by the school districts for schools that have less than 10 Mbps each fiscal year. Since 2014 new and improved technologies and increases to internet services have allowed for more and faster delivery of internet services. Because the cost of internet in some rural districts has decreased, the annual internet costs have fallen below the 2014 benchmark established by state law. To allow school districts to utilize these advances, SB 74 will increase the minimum requirement of Mbps from 10 to 25 which will increase the amount of Broadband Assistance Grants (BAG) that the state can pay to school districts. In 2019, 80 schools in 20 school districts will benefit from the school BAG awards. The funding leverages federal E-rate funds at approximately 8:1. The program allows for leverage for up to 9:1 based on a formula for free and reduced lunch calculation by district. Thank you for your consideration of SB 74 to help bring improved broadband services to rural Alaska and improve service for schools across the state. I urge your support of this legislation to provide Alaskan students, classrooms and teachers and all educators better access to the digital world. 9:40:45 AM Co-Chair Stedman wondered why the internet in Angoons school was slow when there was fiberoptic cable connecting the community. Ms. Boario thought the question should be asked to the telecommunication company in charge of the fiber optic cable. Co-Chair von Imhof thought Co-Chair Stedman had proposed a good question. She thought that telecommunication companies should be questioned. 9:42:01 AM Co-Chair Stedman thought that more fiber optic hook ups would help to serve more communities internet needs. Co-Chair von Imhof agreed that internet connection was good for telehealth and tele education. 9:42:33 AM Senator Wilson noted that in FY 19 there had been upgrades to 80 schools in the state. He wondered whether they had been considered in the legislation. Ms. Boario said that it was expected that in FY 2019, 80 schools, in 20 districts, would reach the 10megabits per second with the School Broadband Assistance grant. Senator Wilson asked whether rural schools were prioritized over schools in the Railbelt. Ms. Boario understood that the program was created to primarily assist rural school districts, however all school districts in the state could apply. 9:43:56 AM Co-Chair von Imhof noted that there were people online to answer technical questions. 9:44:24 AM LISA PARADY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ALASKA COUNCIL OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS, testified in support of SB 74. She was also representing Norm Wooten, the Executive Director of the Association of Alaska School Boards. She reiterated that the bill increased the broadband requirement from 10 megabits per second to 25megabits per second. The bill provided funding for schools to reach the 25megabits through the School Broadband Assistance Grant Ms. Parady discussed her involvement in bringing forward the first broadband assistance grant in 2015, when she worked on the North Slope. She noted that it was unlikely, given the states current financial situation, that the state would be entirely connected all at once, but that taking small connectivity steps was the way forward. Ms. Parady recounted that the original grant had been focused on all schools, setting the floor for all schools at 10megabits per second. She said that the position of educators across was state was that increased broadband should be of the highest priority. 9:48:41 AM Ms. Parady relayed the detailed position of Alaskan school leaders from across the state. She noted that the funding would leverage federal dollars for broadband expansion. She stressed that technology was a core services that should be provided to Alaskan students. She believed the bill was timely and would provide equity with connectivity. She reiterated the 9 to 1 E-Rate federal match. She hoped that the bill would be passed in the current legislative session so that grant recipient applicants could apply for the next school year. She stressed that all schools, no matter of their geography, should have equitable access to educational opportunities. She urged strong support for the legislation. 9:52:34 AM Senator Micciche was interested in the potential to reduce education costs across the state. He asked Ms. Parady whether she considered that there would be an offset that equaled the investment in the long term. Ms. Parady thought an investment in education reaped great rewards. She thought students were being denied the full range of available professional learning opportunities. She used the example of an Advanced Placement chemistry teacher that would not otherwise be available in rural Alaska. Ms. Parady continued to address Senator Micciche's question. She thought there was an opportunity to enhance learning throughout the state by extending the reach of educators through technology. She could not speak to savings justifying the expense but stressed that greater access would be granted to student across the state through district collaboration. 9:55:05 AM Senator Wielechowski asked whether there was research on how increased screen time affected educational outcomes for K-12 students. Ms. Parady thought there was a body of research. She agreed to provide the information later. 9:55:34 AM Co-Chair von Imhof 9:56:18 AM PATIENCE FREDERICKSEN, DIRECTOR OF LIBRARIES, ARCHIVES AND MUSEUMS, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT, noted that the state library administered the BAG grants. The program started as a $5 million program and had decreased to a $1.5 million program. The highest number of schools that needed assistance was at 135, during the second year of the program, that number had decreased to 80. She thought that the decrease was because of more robust internet in certain schools that could afford the expansion without state assistance. Ms. Fredericksen addressed a new fiscal note from DEED. She explained that the more reflected $7,169.4 in the first year of the program. 9:59:51 AM Senator Bishop noted that the fiscal note went down in the out years. 10:00:14 AM Senator Wilson wondered how many schools per year were served by the program. Ms. Fredericksen anticipated that 172 schools would be eligible as of March 2019. She said that the second year of the program would see the most schools, and as the cost of internet decreased in the villages, a reduction in schools would be seen. She said that in 2015, the average award was $29,000, per school, for internet support. She said that that number fell to $17,000 by the end of the program, the decrease in the cost of the internet was expected to fall in the same pattern in the future. 10:01:31 AM Co-Chair von Imhof thought there was 174 schools across the state that had 25megabits or less. She asked how many years it would take to get the 172 schools brought up to speed. Ms. Fredericksen stated that if the infrastructure was in place at the location of the school, the school could reach 25megabits within the first year, if additional infrastructure had to be added the process could take up to two years. Co-Chair von Imhof asked how the routers and infrastructure would be funded. Ms. Fredericksen stated that school districts paid for those things in the previous version of the program. 10:03:01 AM Senator Micciche understood that the $7,169.4 reflected on the fiscal note was to replace the 10megabit program, which was a difference of $5,681.9 after the $1,487.5 already included in the governors FY 19 budget. Ms. Fredericksen answered in the affirmative. 10:03:45 AM 10:03:54 AM Co-Chair von Imhof OPENED public testimony. DAN WALKER, SUPERINTENDENT, LOWER KUSKOKWIM SCHOOL DISTRICT (via teleconference), testified in support of the bill. He thanked the committee for its consideration. He noted that LKSD was the largest Regional Educational Attendance Area (REAA) in the state with 27 schools, 22 of the schools were in remote villages, and approximately 4,100. The poverty rate was a little over 90 percent. He had been involved in education in LKSD for over 27 years. He strongly believed access to broadband internet levelled the playing field for rural students. He said that LKSD viewed broadband as a critical teaching tool for engaging students in the digital age. He said that in rural schools it was impossible to provide a highly qualified teacher in every subject area. He said that the district currently operated 5 teaching studios, offering 15 classes ranging from social studies to dual credit college courses. He lamented that the district was woefully short of the FCC target range of 1megabit per student and was currently at less than 10 percent at that recommended bandwidth. He stressed the critical need for increased broadband in his district. 10:08:04 AM BRETT AGENBROAD, SUPERINTENDENT, PRIBILOF SCHOOL DISTRICT (via teleconference), testified in support of the bill. He noted that the Pribilof Islands were not only rural, but remote. He stated that for the past six years there had been a different math and science teacher each year. The turnover had been detrimental to students. He detailed the struggles that accompanied the 10megabits. He noted that information went out at 10megabits per second but was received at only 2.5megabits per second. The largest class in the district was 20 students. He noted that the weather was another contributing factor in internet efficiency. When the weather was harsh it could drop the internet connection by 50 percent. 10:11:55 AM Mr. Agenbroad stressed that reliable broadband was critical to the education of students in his district. 10:12:43 AM Senator Micciche asked whether equitable access to educational materials increased student interest and graduation rates. He queried whether it was worth the cost. Mr. Agenbroad thought that the access better prepared the students for the future. Having a coherent tracking to students from year to year was beneficial. He listed the myriad of ways people in the community were utilizing internet learning. 10:14:20 AM SAM JORDAN, SELF, JUNEAU (via teleconference), spoke in support of the bill. He thought schools in Alaska had embraced the internet as a great tool for delivering education to students and professional development for staff, as well as communication and coordination between school districts. Additionally, he thought many schools in the state had been able to keep pace with educational opportunities. He thought much of the software developed in recent years was cloud-based and the bill would help schools to keep pace with increasing technological demands. He thought it was important to support the infrastructure in order to offer equitable educational opportunities to all students in the state. 10:16:56 AM JOHN CONWELL, SUPERINTENDENT UNALASKA CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT (via teleconference), testified in support of the bill. His district had participated in the broadband assistance program since its inception. He said that with the program's assistance the school had been able to grow from a 3megabit connection to a 20megabit connection. The 20megabit connection was shared, through a consortium agreement, between two schools (425 students), and the local public library. With the current internet speed, the school district was still unable to offer students basic access to the digital educational content commonplace in other parts of the state and the Lower 48. The school did not have the capacity to offer online assessments; Unalaska was one of eight Alaska school district that administered the Performance Evaluation of Alaskas (PEAKS) test via paper and pencil, due to bandwidth limitations. He stressed that the increased broadband support provided under the bill would give hundreds of students and teacher access to the educational content and services offered through the internet. He thanked the sponsor and co-sponsors of the bill for closing the digital gap for students in the state. 10:18:58 AM PATRICK MAYER, SUPERINTENDENT, YAKUTAT SCHOOL DISTRICT (via teleconference), spoke in strong support of the bill. He believed that all students in Alaska deserved the full transformative power of technology and access to online resources. He relayed that digital content made up a large portion of the districts basic curriculum. He noted that technology was not presented as a measure to replace teachers, rather extending the reach of goo teachers to all students. He said that the lack of fiber optic access in Yakutat limited the ability to stream content and utilize digital content. He said that the district was regularly forced to pick and choose what could be simultaneously participate in, without saturating bandwidth. He added that the limitations also hampered students ability to enroll and participate in dual credit opportunities. He lamented that this was the case for many schools in Alaska. He stated that while student skill deficiencies could be identified, quality online intervention opportunities could not be accessed. He reiterated that the ACSA stood in support of continuing the grant and increasing the level of state funded bandwidth to 25megabits per second. 10:21:39 AM Co-Chair von Imhof CLOSED public testimony. 10:21:53 AM Senator Wilson referenced the FY2019 Alaska Schools Under 25 MBPS (copy on file) and asked whether the schools that were not listed were already above 25megabits per second. Ms. Fredericksen answered in the affirmative. Senator Wilson asked whether the agency followed up with school districts that did not complete an application. Ms. Fredericksen stated that there was one school in a district that did not accept an award. She said she could not speak to why individual schools would not apply to receive funding. 10:24:23 AM Senator Olson reminded the committee that schools in his district were spread far and wide. He found it highly unlikely that that there were schools in his district that did not need additional funding for broadband. 10:24:45 AM Co-Chair Stedman wondered about Port Alexander, which showed 3 megabits per minute. Ms. Fredericksen agreed to provide more information. She explained that sometime schools self-selected a smaller amount of speed at a lower cost. 10:26:16 AM Co-Chair von Imhof thought it was important to understand the program was an annual program to address operating costs rather than infrastructure. She thought it might be nice to see a list of schools with a map overlaid on where broadband fiber optic cable had been laid in the state. She wondered about a long-term plan. Ms. Fredericksen stated that the FCC list that she had used to develop the list of 172 schools, listed how each school received their internet. She agreed to relay the information to the committee. Co-Chair von Imhof assumed that those on fiber optic cable would exceed 25megabits. 10:28:28 AM Senator Olson asked why a school would not request the maximum amount of internet connectivity available. Ms. Fredericksen thought that local funding could be a challenge for some schools. 10:28:57 AM Senator Wilson understood that superintendents changed. He asked whether the program could be applied for yearly; would there be another opportunity for schools to apply. Ms. Fredericksen stated that as an annual program, the notice was sent to all superintendents, if they missed out on the first year of the program, they could apply for the second year of the program. Co-Chair von Imhof understood that the application process occurred annually. Ms. Frederickson answered in the affirmative. She noted that the process was not onerous and included: an Excel Spreadsheet that listed costs, certification from the superintendent, and cost documentation from the internet provider. Co-Chair von Imhof thought that if the goal was for every district to maintain 25megabits, but must reapply annually, it might be better to bring schools up to speed and keep them there for the long term. She realized that this was a lofty goal. Ms. Fredericksen asked to clarify the fiscal note. She spoke to the narrative on page 2 of the fiscal note: The estimated total cost to bring the 172 schools up from 10 mbps to 25 mbps will be $7,135.4. Currently, under AS 14.03.127, $1,487.5 is included in the Governor's FY2020 Amended Budget request to fund the current requirement of up to 10bmps. This $1,487.5 will need to be funded in all of the out years, in order to pay for 0-10mbps internet coverage in tandum with current fiscal note that covers 10-25mbps. The entire program will continue as one application for up to 25mbps. This fiscal note assumes that internet costs will rise proportionately from 10 mbps to 25 mbps. It also accepts that the FY2019 School BAG program numbers are an accurate predictor of what the FY2020 School BAG program will need at 25 mbps. 10:32:08 AM Co-Chair von Imhof discussed housekeeping. SB 74 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further consideration.