Governor Kate Brown visited Pendleton on Friday, April 27, to sign HB 4023. The bill establishes the Connecting Oregon Schools Fund. As part of the Future Ready Oregon initiative, the fund supports broadband access for K-12 public schools in the state, bringing high-speed Internet to rural, underserved communities that lack fiber-optic connections.
Three districts in eastern Oregon – Elgin, Imbler and Huntington – will be supported by obtaining scalable infrastructure so their students can take advantage of new developments in technology.
"With the passage of this bill, we will open up digital learning opportunities in classrooms across Oregon. It’s a big step forward in making sure that our students have the tools they need to forge a path to graduation, and in closing the skills gap between the workforce we have and the workforce Oregon's growing businesses need,” Brown said.
The bill signing was at the Pendleton Technology and Trades Center (P-TECH), the Pendleton School District's Career and Technical Education center. The event included local educators, service providers, staff from the InterMountain ESD, superintendents from the Elgin and Imbler school districts and representatives from the national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway.
The IMESD’s Information Technology Department has been working with the Oregon Department of Education, regional school districts and EducationSuperHighway to bring HB 4023 to fruition. Dr. Mark Mulvihill, Superintendent of the IMESD, acknowledged Cheri Rhinhart, IT Director, and Nick Lapp, IT Deputy Director, who have "tirelessly advocated for this legislation." He said this is a great day because HB 4023 is about equity of access for all students. "Every student in Oregon deserves access to high-speed Internet to achieve their educational goals. This bill is a big step forward in making those dreams a reality," said Mulvihill.
There are approximately 40 school districts in Oregon that lack scalable, affordable broadband connections to their classrooms. Nine districts will seek funding from the Federal Communications Commission School and Libraries (E-rate) program, and the new Connecting Oregon Schools Fund. These districts are requesting approximately $400,000 in state funds, which combined with federal matching funds will catalyze up to $6 million in broadband investment in rural Oregon. The funds will be used to lay up to 100 miles of new fiber optic connections.
In addition to signing the bill, Governor Brown toured P-TECH, learning about the Pendleton School District’s culinary, engineering, aerospace and robotics programs. Brown spoke with several students, asking them about their experiences with Career and Technical Education (CTE) during high school and how this will translate into plans after they graduate. PHS students were excited to tell her how these programs have ignited their interest in a career field they are now considering pursuing.
To view more photos of Governor Brown's visit, please visit IMESD's Facebook Page.