NEW BRITAIN – To help close the digital divide across the state, Gov. Ned Lamont is launching a $43.5 million investment toward remote learning solutions for students.
The Everybody Learns initiative will help empower students across the state to learn from home, especially as the ongoing covid-19 pandemic continues impacting the country, according to Lamont. The funding comes from the state’s portion of the federal CARES Act, the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
It will be used to purchase 50,000 laptops for students, 12 months of access to at-home internet for 60,000 students, create public hotspots free to the public at 200 community sites across the state, and offer social emotional learning content to school districts statewide.
Lamont said there are few responsibilities more important to him as governor than ensuring all students in Connecticut receive a high-quality, world-class education.
“In 2020, it is paramount that every Connecticut student has access to high-speed internet, quality digital learning content and a reliable and effective learning device,” he said. “Too often, students of color and those in low-income communities are disproportionately disadvantaged by not having access to the learning technologies they need. Today I am taking measures to close this inequitable digital divide and ensure all of our students are set up for success with remote learning.”
The number of students identified as in need of access to laptops and at-home internet is based on survey information submitted to the state Department of Education and Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology.
Merrill Gay, president of the Consolidated School District of New Britain’s Board of Education, said the school district and the board are focused on providing a computer device for every student who needs one before school starts on Sept. 3.
“We are thrilled that the governor is picking up this large tab because he is able to negotiate a much bigger deal than we can,” said Gay, who stated the district had started to build a community Wi-Fi network and ordered the first 50 transmitters as the first step. But because of the increase in demand, he said they have been waiting for over a month for delivery and the transmitters are still on backorder.
“This isn’t going to work for the short term, so it’s a wonderful thing that the state is offering to help cover some of those needs,” Gay said.
Through earlier surveys, the district identified the need for 505 new computer devices and 1,010 internet connections. Some of those needs will be met through the district, while others Gay hopes will be addressed by the state. The district has $2.5 million in Chromebooks on order and they are looking to expand Wi-Fi infrastructure throughout the city, including the public library and afterschool providers.
“Between the district and the state, we will figure out a way to get a device and internet connection to anyone who doesn’t have one now,” he said.
Some other ongoing technology projects include making sure all campuses have Wi-Fi both indoors and outdoors so there can be outdoor teachings when weather permits.
“Covid-19 is a respiratory virus, so by having people outside and getting fresh air is one of the best things that we can do to help reduce possible transmissions,” Gay said.
Because of all the uncertainties, reopening plans have been fluctuating day by day. Gay said work is always ongoing to make sure they are as ready as possible for the fall.
“We expect a firmer decision soon from the governor’s office in terms of reopening, then we’ll be able to have a better idea of what the near future looks like,” he said.
Contact Catherine Shen at firstname.lastname@example.org