By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, March 3, the Alabama Senate voted to pass the Wireless Infrastructure Renovation for Education Act, HB41, which is more commonly known as the “WIRED Act”. The legislation would provide wireless broadband access in all of the state’s K-12 public schools.
The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) as Senate Bill 17, the Alabama Ahead Act but was substituted in the Senate by HB41. Sen. Dial said that HB227 was sponsored by State Representative Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa). It is the companion bill to HB41. It provides $12 million in funding so that Alabama school systems can get the matching dollars to apply for federal technology dollars.
Dial said that every school system has to prepare a plan to be turned in to the Alabama State Department of Education. The state department will review and approve those plans.
Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said all of the system have been asked to apply for the Federal E Rate program.
Dial said that the $12 million is for the system matching dollars. “Everybody is going to get some money.” The local system will do their own plan. We can’t get into that.
Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) said that one of his question he has regarding this is that some school systems do not have the money to even have wireless and other systems have chosen to invest in already having done this.
Dial said that it is fair up and down for everybody in how we dispersed that $12 million. Even if you have already gotten wireless you are still going to get that money. You can use the money to get wired, to train the trainers, buy the devices themselves, and to service existing debt to get wireless. HB227 is the funding bill.
Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) said, “I commend you. This is going to be one of the best things we have done in education. It will enhance our goal of making sure that all our students have text books.” It opens up a world of opportunities for our students. However we still need books for students that don’t have internet access at home.
The WIRED Act, House Bill 41, was sponsored by State Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva). Chesteen said, “Passage of the WIRED Act will place Alabama first in the nation in terms of broadband access in public school classrooms. For many years, Alabama was at the bottom of most public school performance measures, but this legislation will allow us to lead the way in providing 21st Century technology and infrastructure without making additional demands on Alabama taxpayers.”
The Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) said, “Thanks to the tireless work of Rep. Donnie Chesteen the Alabama House today unanimously passed the WIRED Act, which places Alabama first in the nation for broadband access in public school classrooms. The passage of this bill completes the Alabama House Republican Caucus’ 2016 ‘Right for Alabama’ Legislative Agenda.”
School Systems will be able to use the money to purchase wireless devices, pay off existing debt dedicated toward wireless capabilities, or purchase other hardware or software needed to enhance the digital learning environment. Each school system would be required to develop a detailed technology plan, and the State Department of Education would provide a report on implementation progress to the chairmen of both chambers’ education budget committees twice a year.
Chesteen said, “I would like to recognize Senator Dial for his vision and his tireless leadership on this issue and I look forward to continuing to work closely with him. If Alabama’s workforce is going to continue competing with other states for jobs, investment, and economic development projects in the future, access to wireless broadband in the classroom is not just an option, it is an absolute necessity.”
Senators Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) and Jim McClendon (R-Springville) have been working on getting wireless tablets into the hands of the school children of Alabama; but have faced opposition from legislators who want to use the money for other purposes or want some detail or another changed. Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) the House Education Budget Committee Chair has also worked hard to advance this legislation.
Both HB41 and HB227 were both passed by the full Senate.
HB41 was amended by the Senate. Dial said that the Alabama Technology Association helped me with the bill, but we are taking them out of the bill and putting in the committee that is already out there.
The House will have to decide whether or not to concur with Dial’s changes, though some version of this will undoubtedly reach the Governor’s office.