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### Alaska Legislators Push for Faster School Internet Amid Education Reform Talks

Dozens of rural schools in Alaska face the risk of being unable to access faster internet due to a legislative deadlock surrounding a comprehensive education bill. Despite expressing optimism about the progress of Senate Bill 140, legislators’ recent actions suggest otherwise.

The House Finance Committee, on Thursday, considered a separate bill aimed at increasing the internet speed cap in Alaska’s schools. This move is an indication that lawmakers lack confidence in the timely approval of SB 140, which initially aimed to enhance internet speeds alongside boosting the base student allocation, a critical element of the state’s per-student funding formula for public schools.

House Bill 193, the bill under discussion on Thursday, proposes utilizing state and federal funds to elevate the minimum internet speed in state schools from 25 to 100 megabits per second. Advocates for education equity in rural Alaska emphasize the necessity of this bill, citing the high cost and sluggish nature of internet connectivity in these regions.

During the committee session, representatives from remote districts highlighted the urgent need for improved internet speeds. Madeline Aguillard, superintendent of the Kuspuk School District, shared challenges faced by schools in conducting online standardized tests due to inadequate internet speeds. Jennifer Eller, director of educational technology in the Bering Strait School District, emphasized the reliance on grants to afford internet access, stressing its indispensable role in providing a modern educational experience.

To implement the internet speed enhancements for the upcoming school year, swift action from lawmakers is imperative. Schools must submit forms for national grant funding by the end of February to meet the final deadline in March.

While negotiations continue behind closed doors to resolve the impasse on SB 140, involving key members from both House and Senate majorities, contentious issues such as the base student allocation amount and funding for different types of schools remain unresolved.

The House majority, predominantly Republican, and the Senate majority differ on the size of the BSA increase, a point of contention that could impact the bill’s support. The involvement of the Democratic House minority in negotiations could potentially bridge this gap, but their exclusion raises concerns.

The fate of the education bill hinges on various factors, including the governor’s stance on public school funding. The intricate dynamics surrounding the bill’s components, particularly the base student allocation, underscore the complexity of reaching a consensus that satisfies all parties involved.

Despite the focus on internet speed enhancements in HB 193, potential delays in its progress, such as proposed amendments, could affect the bill’s timely approval and subsequent implementation.