The adoption of remote learning in spring left out a disproportionate number of students in the transition to online learning. In the Detroit Public Schools Community District, teachers gave out home packet lessons on paper due to around 90% of the 51,000 students not having access to technologies essential for remote learning. California’s President of the State Board of Education, Linda Darling-Hammond, announced that almost 1.2 million students do not have internet access from home. New York City public schools reported some of the 143,000 students enrolled in the summer school program had not started on their coursework due to internet connectivity issues.
Therefore, governors have begun tapping into their Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF) to close the gap between students’ access to technology, known as the digital divide in education. As part of the CARES Act, $3 billion is being designated to the GEERF for governors to use at their discretion to provide emergency support to educational institutions during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
While the speculations of reopening schools for Fall of 2020 vary throughout jurisdictions, governors are using funds from the GEERF dedicated to closing the digital divide. Governors recognize that if schools will operate, whether with online or hybrid learning, it will be essential for students to have access to technologies for a quality education during these unprecedented times. The following governors are using their GEERF:
- Governor JB Pritzker, D-IL, announced that Pre-K to 12th grade education will receive $40 million dedicated to closing the digital divide. It will include $32.5 million for school districts to purchase technologies such as laptops and tablets; $7.5 million to increase internet connectivity, such as utilizing WIFI hotspots; and an additional $7.5 million investment for training educators and families to support students.
- Governor Kay Ivey, R-AL, announced that she will send $10 million to all school buses that will provide WIFI; $4 million for digital textbooks and school library resources; $26 million for additional support to close the achievement gap; and $9 million for before and after school tutoring resources.
- Governor John Bel Edwards, D-LA, announced he will invest $32.2 million for increased internet connectivity and the purchasing of devices; and $2.7 million for social and emotional learning (SEL) at the K-12 level.
COVID-19 has highlighted long-known flaws in the educational digital divide. Perhaps these steps can have a more lasting effect. Time will tell.