BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – If the legislature gives the measure final approval during the fiscal session, public schools could apply for grants to expand their broadband capacity with new fiber optic cables.
The grants would come from a $10 million appropriation from the state surplus. The authorization to spend surplus funds on improved broadband for schools is in Senate Bill 146, sponsored by the Joint Budget Committee.
SB 146 sets up the Broadband Facilities Matching Grant Program. One goal of the program is to pay for one-time installations of fiber optic cables to connect the various buildings of school campuses, for example, to connect the district’s main office to bus garages, school buildings, classrooms and administrative offices of schools throughout the district. The state Education Department has labeled the program E-rate, another name for its Universal Fund for Schools and Libraries.
The department has staff to help local schools through the process, which frequently draws from a long list of acronyms and abbreviations. At least someone who wrote the instruction manual had a sense of humor – POTS refers to Plain Old Telephone Service for receiving and making calls.
State government will end the current fiscal year with an estimated surplus of $126 million. The governor has said that an argument in favor of using $10 million for fiber optic connections for schools is that the money likely would be matched with up to $4 million from private sources, such as educational foundations.
School districts for E-rate funding for fiber optic connections must have computers and hardware in place, as well as staff with sufficient training to use the technology. Also, they must be able to maintain their computer equipment.
First priority is for telecommunications and Internet access. Any available funds left over may be awarded to schools for internal connections and basic maintenance of those internal connections.
The Federal Communications Commission oversees the nation’s E-rate funding program. According to guidelines issued by the state Education Department, applicants for grants must rely on a competitive bidding process and not on sole source bidding.
Near Record Deer Season
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reported that the harvest of deer in the 2013-2014 season was very close to the record set last year. It fell short by only 288 deer.
Last year deer hunters set the current record when they checked in 213,487 deer. Of those, 110,448 were bucks and 103,039 were does.
This season hunters checked in 213,199 deer. It was the first season ever when more does (107,247) than bucks (105,952) were checked in.
Specialists in deer hunting at the Game and Fish Commission said that in the past as many as 70 percent of the deer harvested were bucks, and that the almost nearly equal harvest of bucks and does will result in a stronger and healthier herd.
For the second year in a row, Union County led the state in the number of deer checked in. In second place was Drew County, followed in order by Cleveland, Bradley, Ashley, Grant, Columbia, Washington, Clark and Arkansas Counties.