State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will be in Washington, D.C., this week as he continues his push for increased federal assistance to provide broadband access for all students and schools across California.
At issue is the federal Schools and Libraries Program, more commonly known as E-rate, a surcharge on long distance telephone bills established in 1997 that provides discounts to assist schools and libraries in obtaining affordable telecommunications and Internet access. Torlakson has championed efforts to update E-rate to narrow the digital divide. In March 2012, he convened his Education Technology Task Force to bring 21st century tools into California’s classrooms. He has also brought together other state superintendents via the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to work together on this issue.
“The world has changed, and our economy and society thrive on interconnectivity,” Torlakson said. “E-rate is one of the tools we have to help close the digital divide for California’s children. E-rate has been a success, but now’s the time to make it even better so more schools and libraries can take advantage of it.”
In June, President Obama proposed modernizing the E-rate program as part of his ConnectED initiative, which Torlakson at the time called “a huge step in the right direction.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened a public comment period soon after. Torlakson encouraged local superintendents and other education stakeholders across California to weigh in; the California Department of Education submitted its comments last week.
Among the state’s priorities are expanding the program; making it easier to apply for and receive funding; ensuring the flexibility to take advantage of future technologies; distributing funding according to highest-priority needs; and allowing for adequate bandwidth to support wireless access as schools continue moving toward a one-to-one computing ratio.
Monday in Washington, Torlakson will co-chair the CCSSO’s Digital Learning Task Force. The full-day gathering will include task force discussion and meeting with FCC commissioners and staff, along with representatives of the White House Domestic Policy Council and the U.S. Department of Education. Tuesday, Torlakson will meet with the offices of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, as well as Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who is one of the original authors of the E-rate program.
“With 6.2 million children, our student population here in California is bigger than the total populations of some 30 other states,” Torlakson said. “To truly reach and teach every child—to prepare them for the world they’ll encounter outside our classrooms— technology has to be a part of what we do.”