Governor’s Budget Aims to Expand Broadband Coverage for Rural Schools, Communities

rural-schoolsGovernor Walker’s proposed 2017-19 state budget calls for expanding broadband funding and access for rural schools and communities, including through an expansion of the Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH) Program. Overall, the governor’s plan would increase state funding for broadband programs by an estimated $34.5 million over the two-year budget cycle to a total estimated level of $40.5 million.

The governor calls for extending the sunset date for TEACH infrastructure grants by two years from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2019, and transferring $7.5 million from the E-rate cash balance in 2017-18 to make more money available for grants in 2017-18. In total, $22.5 million would be available over the biennium for improving information technology infrastructure, in addition to the $1.5 million already allocated each year for teacher training grants under current law.

In addition, the governor proposes to:

  • Allow portable, mobile Wi-Fi hot spot devices placed on a school bus or checked out from school as eligible expenses for infrastructure grants.
  • Expand the eligibility for TEACH infrastructure grants to reach more school districts. School district eligibility for infrastructure grants would be expanded in 2017-18 from only districts with a student density of fewer than 13 students per square mile to include districts with up to 26 students per square mile.
  • Consolidate the five existing TEACH appropriations into one appropriation to assure funds are fully utilized.

The governor’s budget also boosts efforts to expand broadband access throughout the state, and particularly in rural, underserved areas. Through an allocation of new funding sources and a reallocation of existing funding sources the governor’s budget would increase the funding available for broadband expansion grants statewide by an additional $14 million in 2017-18 and an additional $1 million in 2018-19.