Broadband gets a major boost in California budget revision  

Credit: Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group via AP

Gov. Gavin Newsom takes part in a news conference at The Unity Council on May 10 in Oakland.

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to inject $7 billion into California’s spotty broadband infrastructure.

The funding was announced Friday alongside a sweeping set of proposals for K-12 education in California as part of the annual May revision of the governor’s budget proposal. Altogether, K-12 education spending in the current budget proposal totals $121.7 billion, the highest level in California’s history. 

Education looked drastically different during the 2020-21 school year as most California schools kept buildings closed and offered distance learning during the pandemic. But even now, as only 16% of students are back in class full-time, thousands of students still don’t have access to their own computers at home to log into online classes, and even more lack affordable high-speed internet that they can rely on regularly to log into class. 

Newsom’s $7 billion investment in broadband, which comes from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, would be spent over three years and is aimed at expanding broadband access and building fiber networks, making internet more affordable and increasing access to high-speed service. 

Only 52.4% of Californians are using broadband at 100 Mbps, according to the budget summary, which is the typical speed required for video conferencing and other basic uses.

“This is an opportunity… to finally close this digital divide and do justice,” Newsom said Friday. “Let’s get this done once and for all. This is what the federal stimulus from my perspective was all about, catalytic investments to make generational change.”

The $7 billion would expand broadband infrastructure by incentivizing private internet providers, which have historically avoided low-income and low-populated areas of the state, to build in underserved areas by reducing their upfront costs. It also would create a $500 million Loan Loss Reserve Account for local governments, tribes and nonprofits to secure funds to build new fiber networks and allocate $500 million to telephone service providers in rural areas to expand service to include broadband.

Several bills are currently being considered that would also funnel money into funding and expanding broadband access throughout the state. Those bills include AB 14, which would make permanent the state’s program to expand broadband service and increases funding for the program. The Broadband for All Act, or AB 24, would ask voters in the November 2022 election to authorize a $10 billion general obligation bond to fund internet access in hard-to-reach areas of the state. 

The latest budget builds upon a proposal introduced in January when California was facing a massive surge in Covid-19 cases and places an emphasis on initiatives aimed at reopening schools safely.

Newsom is capitalizing on an unprecedented surplus from unexpected higher state revenue since last June, when the Legislature approved $70.5 billion for 2020-21 funding through Proposition 98. That’s the formula that determines how much K-12 and community colleges are entitled to out of the General Fund. Revenue for 2020-21 is instead projected to be $92.8 billion, a third higher.
Broadband gets a major boost in California budget revision  
After paying back districts for nearly all of the $13 billion in late payments, called deferrals, owed to them in the current budget, Newsom would spread the bulk of that surplus over the next five years for a “transformational plan” for schools.

It would include:

  • $2.7 billion over three years to phase in transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds and to cut the class size in transitional kindergarten in half from 24 to 12.
  • $5 billion over five years to fully fund after-school programs and summer school for school districts with the most low-income students and English learners;
  • $3 billion to enable 1,400 school districts to convert their schools to community schools that provide health services, after-school programs, preschool and programs for families through community partnerships;
  • $2.6 billion for high-dosage tutoring — intensive, in-school tutoring that Newsom predicts will be an effective strategy to accelerate learning that has been disrupted by school closures over the past 15 months;
  • $2 billion to provide 3.7 million low-income 1st graders in coming years with a $500 college savings account.

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Broadband gets a major boost in California budget revision  
Broadband gets a major boost in California budget revision  

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