News Column

Obama to Has Plan to Get High-speed Internet Access for U.S. Schools

June 6, 2013

President Barack Obama is expected to unveil a plan to connect nearly every U.S. classroom to high-speed Internet while he's in Mooresville, N.C., on Thursday.

The plan would expand broadband and wireless access to 99 percent of the country's schools over the next five years, the White House said. It would use money already budgeted and would not require authorization or approval by Congress.

The goal is to boost graduation rates and turn out students more prepared for tech-related careers.

Mooresville Middle School, where Obama will speak in his Thursday afternoon visit, is a natural place to roll out the initiative. The school district is nationally known for its incorporation of technology.

Every student from fourth grade to 12th grade is issued a Macbook Air to use at school and to take home. Classrooms use laptops and interactive whiteboards.

It wouldn't be the first time the White House has recognized the district for that sort of thing, either. District Superintendent Mark Edwards has been invited to speak on White House panels and briefed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on his district's efforts. Edwards was also named national Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators earlier this year.

While it appears to be working well in Mooresville already, the White House says its plan would particularly help rural schools that don't have speedy Internet service or teachers trained to use technology. Fewer than 20 percent of teachers say their classroom's Internet access is adequate, the White House said.

Some Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools have also jumped into digital access as well. Project LIFT, the five-year, $55 million initiative aimed at boosting performance in west Charlotte schools, includes a subsidized package that gives students a netbook computer and a year's worth of wireless Internet for $150.

The visit will mark Obama's first trip to the Charlotte area since the Democratic National Convention last fall.

Republicans respond

North Carolina Republicans criticized the trip before Air Force One even touched down.

State party chairman Robin Hayes and U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Cherryville Republican, held a conference call to describe the trip as a distraction from scandals in Washington, like the investigation into whether the IRS targeted conservative groups. They also challenged his record on job creation.

"While we welcome the president once again to the state of North Carolina, his record off achievement has not been one of success for average North Carolinians," McHenry said. "His economic record speaks for itself. We have a sluggish growth rate, and many challenges."

Charlotte Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger said he is glad the Mooresville school district is getting more recognition, and said he hopes Obama learns something when he's there.

"President Obama should pay close attention to their method of success, and also to the fact that Mooresville has one of the smallest budgets out of the 115 school districts in North Carolina," he said in a statement.

"More money and more bureaucrats do not lead to success. Good leaders, dedicated teachers, and proactive community involvement is the key, especially when we give them the freedom to make decisions at the local level."

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Source: Copyright Charlotte Observer (NC) 2013