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Effort to expand broadband access to rural school districts

The big news at the Capitol this week is that the Fiscal Year 2018 budget bills have finally made it over from the House, which means it’s now the Senate’s turn to make any changes we feel are necessary. Our goal is always to provide adequate funding to our various state departments and agencies, so they in turn may continue providing the vital services and programs that help our citizens and keep Missouri up and running.

In related budget news, the governor has announced a new program to bring essential internet infrastructure to Missouri’s rural school districts. In an age when so many aspects of our daily lives involve the internet and the world is at our fingertips, some people tend to forget there are many rural areas that still don’t have access to high-speed internet. This is actually the case for over a hundred of Missouri’s school districts. As the governor’s announcement letter states, “That’s thousands of students without access to sufficient technology that kids around the world are using.”

The program will be funded through a federal-state match system, whereby the federal government will provide a dollar-for-dollar match of state funding for one-time special construction costs, up to 10 percent. The estimated cost to connect our more than 100 school districts to high-speed internet is approximately $45 million, 10 percent of which is $4.5 million. However, an additional $2 million will be required to ensure all school districts can participate without having to utilize their own funds. This brings the total state expenditure to $6.5 million, which can be allocated over several fiscal years. House Bill 2, now in the Senate, has appropriated $6 million to help turn this great and much-needed idea into real action.

Expanding broadband access to Missouri’s rural areas is something we’ve been working on for quite some time, so I very much appreciate the governor’s efforts to work with the Legislature on this issue. Another benefit to consider — making such a large investment in internet infrastructure for our school districts will likely create a ripple effect of increased high-speed internet access throughout the rural communities themselves.

I also wanted to briefly mention Senate Bill 328, which the Senate began debating this week. As you may recall, SB 328 is my Higher Education System Review Task Force bill, which seeks to restructure the degrees that Missouri’s public universities and community colleges can offer in order to more effectively meet our ever-changing workforce needs. Crafting SB 328 required bringing together all the various stakeholders for many meetings that took place over many months. This is a great piece of legislation that balances the need to allow our higher education institutions to be more nimble in order to react to the workforce demands of today while still recognizing that the University of Missouri always has been, and always will be, our state’s flagship system. Senate Bill 328 promotes collaboration among our higher education institutions and has been endorsed by every affected community college and university. Although it has not yet passed through the Senate, I look forward to more constructive debate with my Senate colleagues.

My office staff and I were pleased to welcome the following visitors to the Capitol this week: Kaytrina Horton, of Festus and LeeAnn Roberts, of Bonne Terre who was here advocating on behalf of homeless veterans; Debby Bust, of Potosi, who was here for Child Advocacy Day; and Nicole Black and Makenzie Couch, both of Farmington, and Cortney Hampton, of Fredericktown, who were here on behalf of the Earned Income Credit. We also met with some of our retired teachers, who were here for MNEA Capitol Action Day. They included Ste. Genevieve residents Sharon Giesler and Jan and Randy Weith, as well as Lisa Sundblad, of St. Mary and Michael Smith, of Hillsboro.

I would also like to thank my mother, June Romine, who was at the Capitol on Thursday on behalf of the Missouri Association for Family and Community Education for the annual Child Advocacy Day.

And last but certainly not least, I had the privilege of attending the annual Ste. Genevieve Area Center for Life Banquet on Thursday evening. This local pregnancy center provides valuable services to citizens in our area, and I always look forward to being able to show my support for the great work they do.

I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at 573-751-4008. You may write me at Gary Romine, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101; or email me at gary.romine@senate.mo.gov.

Gary Romine

Gary Romine

This report was filed April 7, 2017

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