News Local/State

Lawmakers Demand Fast Internet For Rural Schools


New legislation tries to address the plight of nearly 90,000 students in schools across Illinois, who do not have access to high-speed internet. The lack of access prevents students from participating in modern classroom activities like taking online tests or classes and browsing the internet.

Legislation (SB 2312) announced Wednesday would set aside $16.3 million to help fund the installation of fiberoptic cables for high-speed internet in about 100 districts. The one-time state payment could be matched with roughly $47 million in federal funds.

The federal funding is earmarked specifically for Illinois school districts and runs the risk of being allocated to other states should Illinois not use the funds soon, said State Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill. State Sens. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, and Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, are also sponsoring the measure.

"This is one place that we can take money that we already have access to, money that we can leverage from the federal government, and bridge this digital divide," McCann said at a news conference with co-sponsors Wednesday.

The senators called on Gov. Bruce Rauner to include money for expanding broadband internet to rural communities in his upcoming budget. The governor's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Manar called the bill the "next logical step" toward creating equal education opportunities across Illinois following the passage of the school funding formula last year.

The installation of these cables would provide high-speed internet opportunities to local residents and businesses resulting in a higher quality of life, McCann said.