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A true need for Alabama’s schools

Schools operated on the cheap fail their first obligation: to properly educate the students sitting in their classrooms.

In previous generations, “cheap” meant using old textbooks and outdated equipment and refusing to update antiquated facilities. Today, it often revolves around technology, which has changed so fast in the last decade that schools once on the cutting edge can be outdated overnight.

Montgomery lawmakers heard just that this week from Kathy Johnson, the director of the state’s Office of Broadband Development. Her pitch: Alabama’s schools must have broadband Internet access. Without it, students won’t get what they deserve out of the state’s public schools.

Susan Poling, technology coordinator for Shelby County Schools, put it this way: “This is not a technology need, this is an instructional need.”

We agree. Fast, convenient and reliable Internet access is as vital today for schools as electricity. Schools with balky wireless Internet service — or no wifi at all — are schools with damaged chances of 21st-century success.

Problem is, almost nothing is free, and Gov. Robert Bentley has asked for $40 million in his budget proposal for the expansion of broadband service. That in itself highlights one of Montgomery’s dilemmas. It took the Legislature three times to pass a budget last year that the governor would sign, and money isn’t going to flow easily this time around, either. At some point, lawmakers will have to decide: Is broadband service for Alabama’s schools worth an estimated $40 million?

We’re not experts on the price tag for statewide broadband access. But we have no doubt that the Legislature should exhaust every option it has to pay for what now is an everyday piece of technology. If that doesn’t happen, Montgomery is telling Alabama’s students that their education isn’t worth the cost.

Online – www.annistonstar.com