By Bethany Blankley
Since March, Local Education Agencies and the Texas Education Agency have contributed nearly $900 million to help close the connectivity gap for many public school students, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said.
The state’s plan is to ensure that all Texas public school students have both a device and Internet connection for the 2020-21 school year and beyond.
Roughly $200 million of CARES Act funding was allocated by the state to the TEA. The federal funding scheme established a matching fund reimbursement program for devices and home internet costs incurred by Local Education Agency (LEA) from May 21 through Sept. 1.
The $200 million TEA funding is additional to the nearly $400 million in coronavirus relief funds already dispersed to districts to reimburse them for COVID-19 expenses incurred during the 2019-2020 school year.
Some of the funding was used to procure more than 1 million personal devices and Internet WiFi hotspots for public school students this year.
Administered by Texas’ Region 4 Education Service Center, the bulk procurement of devices and hotspots will lead to noticeable cost savings for districts of anywhere from 20-40 percent off the standard retail price for devices, the governor’s office said.
"As school districts delay in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, it is critical that the state of Texas close the digital divide and ensure access to virtual education for students who are learning at home," the governor’s office said.
The state’s Operation Connectivity Task Force is co-chaired by Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa.
Dallas ISD already spent $20 million on devices for virtual learning, but expects to be reimbursed for about half of that money through CARES Act funding. Dallas ISD purchased iPads for 46,000 pre-K through 2nd grade students and Chromebooks for roughly 14,000 3rd through 5th grade students.
Frisco ISD has already distributed more than 25,000 devices and 200 hotspots, enough for all students who need them, WFAA News reports.