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Bill to Bring Wireless Access to Every School in the State Passes House

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Thursday, May 28 SB1, the Alabama Ahead Act passed the Alabama House of Representatives.  The bill would partner with the federal government on obtaining technology grants so that all of Alabama’s public school children will have access to wireless access to the internet as well as text books and other instructional materials and literature.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial (R from Lineville).  Senator Dial along with Senator Jim McClendon (R from Springville) have been working to pass legislation to get tablets into the hands of kids for five years, but the legislation kept getting hung up in concerns over the cost.

Sen. McClendon told the ‘Alabama Political Reporter,’ “Alabama will lead the nation in providing wireless access to every public school in the state.  This provides the groundwork supplying every public school student with a digital device, replacing textbooks entirely. This conversion will ultimately improve grades, improve test scores, improve graduation rates and reduce discipline problems.”

Since McClendon left the House last year to serve in the state Senate, State Representative Donnie Chesteen (R from Geneva) carried the Alabama Ahead Act in the Alabama House for the 2015 legislative Session.

Rep. Chesteen said that the state would provide the matching funds for the school systems to apply for federal grant awards for technology.  The money can be used for technical infrastructure or debt service for systems that have already bought the technology.  Every classroom mush be able to support 30 tablets

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Rep. Lynn Greer (R from Rogersville) said, “This is a good bill I am for it 100 percent.

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Rep. Kyle South (R from Fayette) said, “I want to thank you for bringing this forward.”

Rep. Will Ainsworth (R from Guntersville) said I went to my local school officials and asked them what I can do for them in Montgomery and they told me technology is the number one thing.

Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R from Rainsville) said, “I want you to know how much this matters to my district.”  One of the high schools just had two computers for sixty students.  I want to thank you for bringing this bill.

Rep. Rod Scot (D from Fairfield) I want to thank you for this.  We have struggled with this for four years.  We need devices for every student, but they depreciate very rapidly

Rep. Mack Butler (R from Rainbow City) said on Facebook, “SB 1 which deals with school technology infrastructure. This bill would provide 606,218.00 for Etowah County technology upgrades and 619,317.00 for St Clair County technology upgrades.”

Rep. David Faulkner (R) complained that none of the school systems in his direct got no money from this plan.

Rep. Chesteen said that that was likely because those school systems did not apply and suggested that they apply next year.  Chesteen said that 94 school systems applied last year.  The deadline for last year was April 16.

Chesteen said that the higher the poverty rate in the higher the federal assistance,

The House passed the bill unanimously 101 to 0.

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) said that once implemented Alabama will be first state in country with 100% connected schools.

Rep. Chesteen said that we are in a race with Georgia for that.

On Tuesday, June 2 the Senate non-concurred with the House.

House Ways and Means Education Chairman Bill Poole (R from Tuscaloosa said that the Senate bill calls for a direct appropriation from the Education Trust Fund.  The House bill does not have any appropriation mechanism.  Poole says that that is part of the dilemma.

Sen. McClendon told the ‘Alabama Political Reporter,’ “The bill as substituted in the House brings ONLY wireless. It does NOT provide any money for devices. If a school already has adequate wireless they can spend money on devices. The needy schools get farther behind, the others leap ahead. The education gap widens. I am strongly in favor of providing access and devices, but I am strongly opposed to this version as supported by the SDE.  Substantial changes must be made in the Conference committee to protect and include the neediest schools and allow them to be a part of this transition to digital learning.”

A conference committee has been appointed to resolve the issue in the bill.  Senators McClendon, Dial, and Roger Smitherman (D from Birmingham) were appointed to the committee.  Chairman Poole and Rep. Rod Scott were among the three from the House appointed.

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