A little over a year ago, Frankfort Independent Schools launched a program to provide free home internet access for all of its students, but so far, fewer than 30 families have signed up to participate.
In January 2018, the school district launched the program, with the help of a grant provided by the City of Frankfort by way of the Kentucky Capital Development Corp., which acts as a pass-through entity for the initiative. The school district is reimbursed by the funds as it enters the agreements with the families.
The initiative provides $60,000 from the city for the Frankfort Plant Board to install internet in the homes of FIS students who previously did not have access, at no cost to the students' families. Only one device can be used on the Wi-Fi at a time. A few wireless hotspots, such as the Kings Center, F.D. Wilkinson Gym and the Walter Todd Community Center, were also installed.
The program is part of a memorandum of agreement between KCDC and the City of Frankfort that gave a total of $200,000 to the school district and community, including upgrading technology in the schools at a cost of $80,000 and implementing a marketing and communications program at a cost of $60,000 for the city, school district and other institutions in Frankfort to encourage economic development and families to move into downtown. The MOA was created to “initiative a pilot economic development project,” according to the MOA documents.
The State Journal filed an open records request with the City of Frankfort for the MOA. In a response letter, City Clerk Chermie Maxwell wrote that City Solicitor Laura Ross said that Frankfort and FIS are in the process of evaluating the pilot program and are discussing possible renewal and changes, which if made, would need to be brought to the city commission.
KCDC President Terri Bradshaw said that so far, KCDC has only reimbursed FIS for the $80,000 set aside for technology upgrades at Second Street School, Frankfort High School, Early Learning Academy and Rosenwald Empowerment Preparatory Academy. She said that FIS Superintendent Houston Barber sent a letter to KCDC saying that the upgrades were completed in February 2018. Barber said the upgrades included installing faster Wi-Fi in school buildings and putting in hotspots for areas that get high traffic during events at schools.
FPB currently has 28 FIS customers, or households, taking advantage of the internet service, spokeswoman Cathy Lindsey said. Some homes have more than one student. The school district has almost 1,000 students enrolled for the upcoming academic year. Families who are enrolled in the program receive a monthly FPB bill for $15, along with a monthly credit to cover the cost.
Barber said the district is continuing to promote the program, along with providing students with more opportunities for access to electronic tools. Barber said the district currently spends $900 a month to fund the at-home internet installations.
Before the program was launched, Barber said that about 150 families in the school district could benefit from the program, and he recently said that the district still has the potential to serve that many families with this internet access. The district is continuing to communicate about the program to families and encouraging them to sign up for the program. He said that the goal of the program is to make sure that all students in the district have internet access.
In recent months, FIS has adopted a technology plan focused on improving digital equity, or having equal access and opportunity to digital resources, among its students. Frankfort High School will launch a take-home plan for Chromebooks this school year, so students will have technology access outside of school, a move that could lead to more families using the internet access program, Barber said.
“It breaks down barriers and provides access,” Barber said of the internet access program.
Frankfort Mayor Bill May said he still supports the program. At the time that the program was launched, May said it would bridge the digital divide in the inequality of accessing information for local students, giving them the same opportunities.
“It’s so important for all of our students to have access to the internet and be connected,” he said.
To sign up for the program, families can fill out a request form found on the school district's website.