LITTLE ROCK -The governor, educators and the state's top telecommunications officials announced that all Arkansas public schools now have access to high speed Internet service.
The project to expand broadband access in schools began two years ago. With its completion, Arkansas is now one of only six states in which all schools have data transmission capacity of at least 100 kilobits per second per student.
Actually, Arkansas is well ahead of that minimum standard and the average capacity is 200 kbps. That means our schools are prepared for future growth in the demand for more broadband. The new network is 40 times faster than the old one.
Charter schools and education-service cooperatives are also connected to the new network.
The new network allows students to take online courses and collaborate on research projects with students in other parts of the world. Video-conferencing and distance learning are now available to all schools. There is less of a possibility of a "digital divide" between the quality of education in urban and rural areas.
The upgrading of Internet access was crucial for schools to comply with Act 187 of 2015, which put Arkansas among the nation's leaders in offering computer science and computer coding classes in high schools. Texas passed a similar law but did not provide funding for the necessary equipment upgrades, as Arkansas did.
Expanded broadband statewide will not only improve education, but also boost economic development efforts.
Industry recruiters can better promote Arkansas as a place to locate or expand, because the availability of broadband in local schools is a factor that corporate executives take into account, as they do the cost of utilities, the quality of the workforce and the local tax structure.
Competitive companies need a workforce with computer skills, and Arkansas schools are equipping students with the skills most in demand by businesses.
Medicaid Rolls Decline
The state Human Services Department (DHS) continues to remove ineligible people from its roster of Medicaid expansion recipients. At the end of June the total number of people in Arkansas Works, as the program is called, was about 309,000. That is 25,000 fewer people than at the end of January.
State officials have asked the federal government for permission to reduce the number of people eligible for Medicaid expansion even further, by limiting enrollment only to those who earn less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The current threshold is 138 percent of the poverty level.
DHS officials have also sought a waiver that would allow the state to impose a work requirement for Arkansas Works, similar to the one required of welfare recipients.
Arkansas Works is usually considered separately from the traditional Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to poor people and people with disabilities. Traditional Medicaid pays for nursing home care for about 75 percent of residents of long-term care facilities in Arkansas. It covers as many as 700,000 Arkansas residents in a typical year.
Arkansas Works is the state's method of implementing the federal Affordable Care Act.