A group of four students sit on the floor of a classroom while they work on laptops.A new report highlights Kentucky’s growing access to technology in schools.

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) “Kentucky’s K-12 Digital Readiness” survey goes out to every school district annually in the Commonwealth. The survey results for 2023 illustrate not only an increase in access to digital learning devices for students, but also growth in the number of staff required to help use those tools.

“Throughout the state, our education technology (Educational technology) programs and support teams have been tremendously understaffed for years,” said KDE Chief Information Officer and Associate Commissioner David Couch. “However, this year we have promising growth in both technical support and in digital learning coach positions. This is a good sign, as it is vital to have both strong technical support and digital learning coach support.”

Couch said Kentucky is the pioneer and the national leader in most aspects of education technology, especially in cloud-based computing, using 20 times more internet bandwidth than the rest of Kentucky state government and local county governments combined.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said “these past three school years have put an unprecedented load on all our people, our systems and major services, yet the education technology teams in our schools and districts have thrived and did so while continuing to implement new projects, upgrade services and provide connectivity and availability with 99.98% uptime.”

Couch said the most effective professional learning strategy for the infusion of education technology in teaching and learning has been to hire digital learning coaches. There is a trend to first hire people for part-time positions, then make those positions full-time as the work garners more support and value. The number of part-time digital learning coach positions grew 26% from the previous year.

“It’s a great starting point as, generally, we see districts move their part-time support roles to full-time roles as they find the extreme value in both technical support and learning support roles,” said Couch. “However, we need to keep supporting this statewide network of great people with amazing skill sets as it remains an area of criticality and urgency from being tremendously shorthanded for years.”

The next challenges, Couch said, are hiring full-time staff at a faster pace to keep up with the demand districts have for these roles, and finding more consistent and sustainable funding for the positions.

Access to high-quality internet also continued to increase in Kentucky as districts employ unique strategies to enhance student experiences. Kentucky public school internet usage has increased 247% over the past 24 months on school campuses. Access beyond the school campus also continues to increase, especially in regions that traditionally have lacked access to internet, mainly due to affordability issues. The report showed:

  • 100% of Kentucky K-12 public schools and district offices are connected by the most reliable, highest-speed and highest-quality fiber internet services in the country.
  • Internet speed available through the statewide fiber network service for schools grew to greater than 332 kilobytes per second bandwidth per student.
  • The school fiber internet network was fully operational 99.98% of the time.
  • 98% of students have internet access for schoolwork beyond their school campus.
  • 95% of students report internet access at home.

Districts have been using strategies over the past several years like 1:1, where schools provide at least one device for each student, and Bring Your Own Device to increase student access to technology and high-quality instructional resources, ensuring digital equity for all learners.

With the increased technology, schools are empowering students with personalized learning experiences, helping teachers increase their productivity and workflow, enhancing communication and collaboration within schools, and expanding data-enhanced decision-making.

Harnessing Momentum and Striving for Sustainable Growth

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a large influx of one-time federal relief funds that will go toward education technology needs in the K-12 environment over the next two school years.

These additional funds have led to the largest amount of money available to address education technology needs in school districts in the 30-year history of the Kentucky Education Technology System (KETS). It will help address previous and sustained funding shortfalls and help districts implement new technology-enabled services that are needed.

Couch said the temporary nature of the federal relief funds means planning must occur now on how to maintain and sustain these products, services and staff positions after the funding has been expended or expires at the beginning of fiscal year 2025. This has been referred to, he said, as an education technology funding cliff.

KETS will continue emphasizing the need to properly fund the staff side of education technology in districts so there are the right number of technicians, digital learning coaches and other basic educational technology leadership, said Couch. These positions help ensure school technology is reliable, maximized in instruction and is safe, secure and of high quality.

Couch said that over the past five years, there is an alarming trend of educational technology services and devices dramatically outpacing the number of district educational technology staff. This highlights the need to invest in more digital learning coaches, technicians and education technology leadership, and cybersecurity and data quality personnel. These educational technology staffing positions:

  • Keep educational technology systems and services running reliably, safely and securely;
  • Build district capacity by showing teachers how to maximize the use of the digital tools in their instruction;
  • Drive educational technology instructional alignment and integration in a fiscally responsible and strategically sound manner; and
  • Ensure data quality is at a high level.

Couch said these positions are critical in providing educators and school leaders with appropriate professional learning, devices, content and methods to use technology effectively in the classroom.