The Butts County School System, which has received $434,902.50 in state and federal Connections for Classrooms grants to upgrade technology for students, is set to get another $76,747.50 in a federal E-Rate matching grant to cover a network investment for a total of $511,650. The work is expected to be done by 2016.

“Our children are going to have better access to electronic learning resources,” said Butts County School Superintendent Robert “Buddy” Costley. “The state is working hard to help local school systems by investing in technology infrastructure. In the near future 100 percent of school testing will be online. All students must have some sort of electronic device. They’re giving us some money to get jump-started.”

The Butts County School System is categorized by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia and the Georgia Technology Authority’s Digital Georgia Program as a Tier 1 rural system that had 77.32 percent of its 3,359 students in 2014 qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Under another program, all students can get free meals but the percentage still counts since it is considered a measurement of the poverty rate.

“Over the next five years we’re allocated $150 per full-time-enrollment student to equal the $511,650,” said Butts County School System Technology Director Walt Dundore.

Technology staff are walking the buildings checking for wireless dead zones so they will know where to close signal gaps. The technology committee will help make the decision on how the system will work. It is made up of teachers and staffers but next year will include students.

“This money is going to blossom and grow at no direct local cost,” Costley said. “This will come into play in fall 2016 so we’ve got a lot of time to make plans. Everybody will have a say. The first priority is to look at our oldest equipment and replace it. Jackson High School has the highest number of students and the highest number of infrastructure parts needed to get it ready for wireless capability.”

Connections for Classrooms grants are meant to help student achievement through digital learning. Collaborative funding from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, the Georgia Department of Education and the One Georgia Authority aims to ensure classrooms have high-speed broadband access. E-Rate funding comes from the Federal Communications Commission.

“In order to succeed in the 21st century job market, our students must master 21st century skills,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. “With these funds in place, our schools are closer than ever to attaining the necessary technology infrastructure and to better preparing Georgia’s students for life outside the classroom.”

The effort complements the expansion of the University System of Georgia PeachNet network to connect every Georgia local educational agency to its high-speed network. The partnership between USG and GaDOE aims to give all district central offices 100 megabits per second bandwidth per school by July 2015.

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