K-12 Connect’s goal is to link more students to internet access

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There is a good chance a South Dakota internet access program could help a student in the Wagner School District.

Gov. Kristi Noem established the K-12 Connect program on Oct. 22 to offer free internet access for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year to households in which as least one person is in public school and the housed qualifies for free and reduced meals. The qualifying household would not have subscribed to broadband internet service as of July 1. Noem said in a Nov. 18 news conference that the program was extended to home school students.

The application window closes Friday. The program is paid for with federal CARES Act money.

Noem said in an Oct. 27 news release that the K-12 Connect program was established to make sure students did not fall behind as schools may need to use internet instruction during the coronavirus pandemic. The Governor’s office estimated that 7,000 families are eligible for the program, said Ian Fury, the Governor’s communications director. Fury said the state had received 300 applications so far.

More than 90% of the students in the Wagner School District participated in the free and reduced meal program in 2019, according to South Dakota State University.

The Wagner School District was used by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at the Institute of Education Sciences as an example of the disparity in broadband internet access in South Dakota. The data is from June 2016.

Many households (78%) had a broadband internet subscription in South Dakota 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau; that still leaves 22% without that access.

In 2019, 88.9% of South Dakotans had access to broadband internet and 91.6% had access this year, Fury said.

A portion of those without access are school aged.

In South Dakota, 11.1% of the 176,000 individuals age 5–19, or about 17,820 individuals, didn’t have broadband Internet at home in 2019, according to the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at the Institute of Education Sciences.

In the Wagner School District, the percentage of students with broadband access drops below 11% as 2.8% of the 1,180 individuals age 5–19 within the school district boundary have broadband internet in Wagner School District.

Wagner is in Charles Mix County and the city and parts of the county are part of the Yankton Reservation.

The Census Bureau’s 2019 estimated population of Charles Mix County was 9,292. About 75% of the county’s 3,144 households had a computer and 62.7% had access to broadband internet in 2018, according to the Census Bureau.

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Broadbandnow says about 700 people in the county don’t have access to any wired internet.

While broadband internet access is generally rated as one of the best sources of internet, communities are served by other access including Charles Mix County.

Broadbandnow says the county is served by seven internet providers, five of which provide residential service. The county’s internet service is slower than the national average and the average speed in South Dakota.

Providers can often find it costly and challenging to provide higher speed internet access in some rural areas, according to a May 2019 Broadband Report for the state of South Dakota.

Students in the Wagner School District are one example of potential applicants who could benefit from the state’s K-12 Connect program.

In 2019, 36.09% of the state’s students qualified for free and reduced meals, according to the South Dakota Department of Education. The 2020 numbers are not yet available.

The state’s poverty level is 11.9% of its 2019 estimated population of 884,659, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Although 36.09% of students qualified for free and reduced meals in the fall of 2019, not all of those students would be without internet access.

But for those in rural areas, when there is internet access, there is at least a 48% chance they’d have access at a lower level of service than in more populated areas, according to the Institute of Education Sciences.

Compared to cities and suburban areas in the state, such as the Rapid City School District (99.2% with broadband), 51.2% of the 125 rural districts in South Dakota have high levels of connectivity, and many have low or very low levels, according to the Institute of Education Sciences.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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