PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — There’s much more to come on delivering more internet services safely to South Dakota’s public schools and libraries.
That’s according to state Education Secretary Ben Jones.
The former dean at Dakota State University has put on many miles during his first 11 months in the new job. He’s been visiting many of South Dakota’s 149 school districts, each with a local governing board.
At the same time he’s been trying to strengthen relationships between the schools and the state department’s staff of 186 that he manages for Governor Kristi Noem.
One of the projects Noem recently highlighted was the capacity of internet services to schools, especially the speed of connection.
She announced November 13 that 96 percent of South Dakota’s public school districts now meet or exceed the goal of internet access of at least one megabit per second per student in the classroom.
South Dakota districts short of the 1 Mbps speed were a mix of highly urban and remotely rural: Sioux Falls, Todd County, Dupree, Timber Lake, Eagle Butte and Rapid City.
In a statement, the governor said: “A gap in broadband internet is a failure to remain competitive. In the past six months, the state has committed $5 million to broadband improvement through my Connect South Dakota initiative. We’ve provided online access to 4,800 unserved households and more than 100 businesses.
“This is only the beginning of our work to bring high-speed internet access to as many South Dakotas as possible,” Noem continued. “I remain committed to doing everything I can to connect South Dakota to a better, brighter tomorrow. We owe it to our future: our children, the next generation.”
Secretary Jones said South Dakotans should be “very proud” of how their state’s schools fared. State government wants providers to better serve school systems.
“By managing school connectivity centrally, we are able to afford greater speeds and more reliable connectivity for our schools. Each year we work with vendors to make sure we are managing internet speeds and connectivity to the fullest extent possible,” Jones said.
He added that the six districts who haven’t reached the 1 Mbps goal aren’t limited by the broadband access they currently have.
The next thing on the K-12 internet agenda is cyber security, according to Jones.
He said the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications and the state Department of Education collaborated on adding three cyber security specialists.
“These three people have since been hired and have begun their work to assess the K-12 system,” Jones said.
His department’s responsibilities include the State Library. Both are in the MacKay Building at 800 Governors Drive in Pierre: The library on the first floor and the department’s central staff on the second.
Jones said State Library personnel are working to support the wide range of needs in community libraries around the state. One project is collaborating with the library-science graduate program at Emporia State University.
“Over the coming year, they will help us define which community libraries have broadband, and which community libraries could, with the right technical support or modest financial support, quickly establish a broadband connection for their community,” Jones said.