Governor touts broadband access in visit to Bayard school
BAYARD — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts made a stop at the Bayard Public Library Friday to emphasize that high-speed broadband internet access is incredibly important for our schools and our students.
“This is one of the reasons why the Department of Education set up Network Nebraska,” Ricketts told a group of Bayard Elementary students and community members that attended the governor’s visit. “The goal is to make sure all of our 244 school districts are connected to that broadband system.”
He said by doing that, the state has brought down the per-unit cost of internet service by about 99 percent. Now, the Department of Education is working with the Nebraska Library Commission to extend that service into the public libraries.
The group applied for a number of grants through the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services to help schools connect with their local libraries for broadband access.
Bayard’s application was initially rejected. But members of the Library Commission thought the application was so good, they decided to fund it themselves.
“Those broadband connections are important here in Nebraska,” Ricketts said. “A survey said 95 percent of families have broadband access at home. But with more than 350,000 kids in the state, even the 5 percent without access leaves out 17,500 kids.”
He added that in some small towns, the only broadband internet access is at the public library, so it’s essential for the schools to partner with the libraries to provide more opportunities for that access.
Bayard is an example. A Sparks Grant made it possible for the Bayard Public Library to partner with Bayard Public Schools to provide that access.
About 50 percent of grade school kids use the internet on a weekly basis and about 30 percent of high school students use it on a daily basis as part of schoolwork.
Ricketts said that broadband internet access to rural communities isn’t just important for education but also for economic development.
“If we’re trying to keep our young people in our small towns, quality of life is important,” he said. “That includes broadband internet access. It’s important for growing our businesses and important for education.”
Ricketts said the state’s broadband initiative is just part of his mission to grow Nebraska for all its citizens.
“We can’t be a healthy state if we’re only growing Lincoln and Omaha,” he said. We have to grow the entire state and that’s why broadband is so important in making it happen.”
Outlining some of his goals for growing Nebraska, Ricketts said the state needs to make sure students know about the many career opportunities that are available in their own backyards.
“Developing our people is one of the key pillars,” he said. “I want all the students to start thinking about what they’re going to do after high school. There are a lot of high-paying career opportunities that don’t involve four years of college.”
But to achieve growth for Nebraska, Ricketts told the students it’s vital for the state to manage its budget and provide tax relief. He said that since he became governor, they’ve reduced the growth of the state’s budget by more than 90 percent.
“It’s all about letting our young people have the opportunity to pursue their careers doing things they want to do right here in Nebraska,” Ricketts told the students. “We’re making sure you’re getting the right education and have access to the skills you need. Broadband internet is a part of that.”