Governor Kate Brown celebrated Eastern Oregon University’s (EOU) campus expansion and official designation as Oregon’s Rural University. The Governor’s visit to La Grande on Saturday was part of a three-day tour of Eastern Oregon to highlight new investments and programs in the region that support the Governor’s Future Ready Oregon initiative. The initiative, announced earlier this year, closes the gap between the skills Oregon’s workers have and the skills Oregon’s growing businesses need to thrive in the economy of the future.
“The strength of communities in Eastern Oregon and the local economy depends on students who are prepared for the workforce of the future,” Governor Kate Brown said. “Thanks to new and collaborative initiatives and an investment from the state, EOU is expanding opportunities to more students, making it possible for students who love this region to stay and work here.”
As part of the EOU campus visit, Governor Brown signed HB 5702, which includes $9 million in capital funding for a new Fieldhouse. The new facility will provide flexible space for the region for physical activity, as well as an exercise lab and instructional space for EOU’s physical activity and health degree program. Funding for the project is part of a larger, statewide investment package that includes new facilities on the campuses of Oregon State University – Cascades and the University of Oregon.
These projects serve high-need, growing communities, and each will feature Oregon manufactured wood products — particularly cross-laminated timber — in construction. Additionally, Governor Brown announced the launch of the Urban-Rural Ambassadors Program, a partnership with EOU, Portland State University, and Oregon Solutions.
On Friday, Governor Kate Brown signed HB 4023, which establishes the Connecting Oregon Schools Fund. As part of the Future Ready Oregon initiative, the fund supports broadband access for K-12 public schools in the state, bringing high-speed internet to rural, underserved communities that lack fiber-optic connections.
“The internet democratizes knowledge, and access to it needs to be as reliable for students in Elgin as it is in Eugene,” said Governor Brown. “With the passage of this bill, we will open up digital learning opportunities in classrooms across Oregon. It’s a big step forward in making sure that our students have the tools they need to forge a path to graduation, and in closing the skills gap between the workforce we have and the workforce Oregon’s growing businesses need.”
Local educators, state representatives, and service providers gathered with Governor Brown, representatives from InterMountain Education Service District (ESD), and national non-profit EducationSuperHighway to celebrate the Connecting Oregon Schools initiative.
In InterMountain and Malheur education service districts, the Connecting Oregon Schools Fund will support Elgin, Huntington, and Imbler schools in obtaining scalable infrastructure so their students can take advantage of new developments in technology.
“Every student in Oregon deserves access to high-speed internet to achieve their educational goals,” said Intermountain Education Service District Superintendent Dr. Mark Mulvihill. “This bill is a big step forward in making those dreams a reality.”
Nine districts, including three associated with InterMountain ESD, will seek funding from the Federal Communications Commission School and Libraries (E-rate) program, and the new Connecting Oregon Schools Fund. These districts are requesting approximately $400,000 in state funds, which combined with federal matching funds will catalyze up to $6 million in broadband investment in rural Oregon — a 15:1 return on investment of state funds in this first year alone. The funds will be used to lay up to 100 miles of new fiber optic connections.
There are approximately 40 school districts in Oregon that lack scalable, affordable broadband connections to their classrooms. While nine districts this year are appealing to the legislature’s Emergency Board (E-board) for interim funding, the legislature may consider an additional $6 million appropriation to ensure all schools that need broadband upgrades can access state and federal matching funds.
The Oregon Department of Education will partner with the national non-profit EducationSuperHighway to provide technical assistance, tools, and resources at no cost to school districts and education service districts. School district and ESD leaders can take advantage of the Connecting Oregon Schools Initiative for support in getting affordable broadband, robust Wi-Fi connectivity, and scalable infrastructure to keep pace with growing needs for bandwidth.
“The affordability of broadband infrastructure often poses a major roadblock to bringing high-speed internet to schools and classrooms,” said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway. “Today, we applaud Governor Brown for joining 19 other governors across the country who are leading the way in helping school districts find more affordable options that not only meet the needs of Oregon schools today, but also make it possible to meet growing technology demands.”