Archive for Thursday, December 20, 2001

Statewide Internet link in peril

Funding shortfall dims hopes of securing $10 million needed for service

December 20, 2001

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— Nearly four years in the making and touted as a way to put every Kansan on the information superhighway, the Kan-Ed network may be stuck in the ditch.

Designers of the network to connect schools, libraries and hospitals to broadband Internet and intranet service said Wednesday they are ready to make Kan-Ed a reality. But that will require $10 million in funding per year.

The Kansas Board of Regents praised the Kan-Ed task force and accepted its report. But several regents noted that because of the state's financial problems, it will be difficult to get new appropriations from the Legislature.

Regent Fred Kerr of Pratt said he enthusiastically supported Kan-Ed and that funding it should be at the top of the regents' priority list to the Legislature.

"The timing, of course, is the problem," said Kerr, a former Senate majority leader." Some years $10 million would not be hard to accomplish, but it will be this year."

Gov. Bill Graves has said the state faces a $426 million budget gap that without new revenue will require cuts in nearly all areas of state government, including schools, social services, higher education, highways and public safety.

But backers of Kan-Ed said the $10 million price tag was much lower than similar efforts in other states and that Kansas needs the network to improve Kansans' lives.

"Ten million dollars to run a statewide program is a bargain," Regents president Kim Wilcox said.

The network has been touted as a way to deliver critical medical treatment to remote areas via interactive video conferencing. On the education side, Kan-Ed was seen as a way to present classes statewide, especially to schools with teacher shortages.

Jerry Niebaum, an assistant vice chancellor at Kansas University who is on special assignment as the Kan-Ed planning coordinator, said, "The time (to start) was about three years ago. We really need to move forward on this."

If funded during the legislative session that starts next month, the network could be running by July, Niebaum said.

Duane Johnson, the state librarian, said Kan-Ed could be promoted to the Legislature as helping every area of the state. He said funding Kan-Ed should be part of the funding of general education.

During the last session, lawmakers appropriated about $350,000 to complete the design of Kan-Ed.

Gov. Bill Graves signed the Kan-Ed bill into law on April 21 in a teleconference with students around the state.

Since that time Niebaum and an advisory council have been putting together a plan to get Kan-Ed going.

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