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Lawmakers Demand Fast Internet For Rural Schools

Carter Staley
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Nearly 90,000 students in schools across Illinois do not have access to high-speed internet, preventing them from participating in modern classroom activities like taking online tests or classes and browsing the internet.

Legislation announced Wednesday would set aside $16.3 million to help fund the installation of fiberoptic cables for high-speed internet in about 100 districts. The one-time state payment could be matched with roughly $47 million in federal funds.

The federal funding is earmarked specifically for Illinois school districts and runs the risk of being allocated to other states should Illinois not use the funds soon, said State Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill. State Sens. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, and Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, are also sponsoring the measure.

"This is one place that we can take money that we already have access to, money that we can leverage from the federal government, and bridge this digital divide," McCann said at a news conference with co-sponsors Wednesday.

The senators called on Gov. Bruce Rauner to include money for expanding broadband internet to rural communities in his upcoming budget. The governor's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Manar called the bill the "next logical step" toward creating equal education opportunities across Illinois following the passage of the school funding formula last year.

The installation of these cables would provide high-speed internet opportunities to local residents and businesses resulting in a higher quality of life, McCann said.

Mary works as an intern for NPR Illinois' Illinois Issues. She is currently a student in the Public Affairs Reporting master's degree program at the University of Illinois Springfield and will graduate in May 2018. Prior to coming to Springfield, Mary worked as the Editorial Intern at the Chicago Sun-Times. She obtained her bachelor's degree in journalism from Illinois State University where she served as the school newspaper's news editor and editorial writer. Mary is from Naperville, Ill., and attended Wheaton Warrenville South High School.
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