Senators McCann & Manar working on bill to provide high speed internet to rural schools

By Gary Scott on January 19, 2018 at 9:06am

Two downstate Senators are continuing their push to bring high-speed internet to the state’s rural communities and schools.

Local State Senator Sam McCann, along with Senators Andy Manar of Bunker Hill and Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant of Shorewood, recently introduced the bipartisan Senate Bill 2312 at a press conference at the Capitol.

Senate Bill 2312 is designed to offer substantial assistance to schools, particularly in rural areas of Illinois that struggle with slow and unreliable internet service.

Senator Manar explains how the bill first came about, and goes over some of its primary goals.

“This bill originated from conversations between Senator McCann, Senator Bertino-Tarrant, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and myself. It’s pretty simple: we’re leaving $50 million of federal funding on the table that would essentially eliminate the digital divide that rural Illinois faces in its public schools. We have about 100 public schools in the state that service about 100,000 students that don’t have access to broadband internet, and that, plain and simple, puts those kids at a disadvantage, and most of those kids live in small towns,” Manar says.

A crucial component of the bill is that it would qualify Illinois for funding matched three to one by the federal government. However, Manar says it’s important to pass this bill soon and avoid missing out on those federal funds.

“We need to get this in place before 2020, because we believe, working with U.S. Senator (Dick) Durbin’s office and U.S. Senator (Tammy) Duckworth’s office, that that federal funding which is earmarked for Illinois today is going to go away. And the money that we can access is going to be distributed to other states if Illinois doesn’t put its money on the table,” Manar explains.

While McCann sits on the Republican side of the aisle, Manar and Bertino-Tarrant are both Democrats. And Manar believes that bipartisan support is essential for the future of this bill.

“We have a plan to fix it, and we can do this despite the partisan bickering in the state. That’s why I think it’s important that Senator McCann, who’s a Republican, and myself, I’m a Democrat, that we continue to work together on things that will give new opportunities to kids in downstate schools. This is simply giving kids in small towns every opportunity that they deserve. We think it’s a win for the state, we have a reasonable way to pay for it that isn’t going to raise taxes, and that will in turn leverage federal money that has Illinois’ name on it today, that if we don’t do that within the next two years, that money’s going to go somewhere else,” says Manar.

The need to secure that federal funding becomes more important, as early estimates show that the cost of adding broadband to rural schools could range from $75,000 to over $400,000 per school.