SPI holds first digital divide taskforce meeting
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SPI acknowledges work of CSBA and others on the digital divide and holds first digital divide taskforce meeting

70,000 new devices and additional funding available for student tech access

In announcing that more than 70,000 laptops, Chromebooks and tablets will be distributed to California students starting this week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on Monday thanked CSBA for its help in identifying local educational agencies struggling with the digital divide amid the shift to distance learning. The devices supplement an earlier commitment from Google to provide 100,000 WiFi hotspots and 4,000 Chromebooks.

The news came during Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest media briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, which overwhelmingly focused on efforts to bridge the digital divide. CSBA amplified its leadership and advocacy on the issue as schools first started closing their doors in March, using surveys to magnify the challenges and technology needs that LEAs and their students face during the pandemic.

The efforts of CSBA, state leaders and other education organizations have escalated the issue to a state-level task force created by Thurmond. “Nothing eclipses the importance of a great teacher, but these tools connect our kids to teachers, and our kids have to have them,” Thurmond said Monday.

The California Department of Education has now assessed the technology needs of nearly every LEA in the state, Thurmond added. “That was done in partnership with our association of administrators, and our county superintendents association, and our California state school boards association to help us get that information,” he said.

Noting that one in five California children lacks connectivity in their home, First Partner Jen Siebel Newsom said distance learning, while a difficult transition for everyone, is impossible for families without technology resources. “The fear that these parents have that their children will fall behind without internet access and devices is very real,” she said.

A list of companies, business leaders and philanthropists that committed to the new state effort includes Sprint, T-Mobile, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, Zoom and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. Gov. Newsom described the efforts of state officials to receive commitments from these business and individuals as a “two-week sprint,” while acknowledging that much more work remains.

CSBA also continues to develop private partnerships to complement the collaborations outlined by the Governor on Monday.

$30 million from Public Utilities Commission to support access; buses as hotspot hubs

Gov. Newsom also announced that the California Public Utilities Commission and the CDE will partner to distribute $30 million to support connectivity.

The CPUC will make $25 million available from the California Teleconnect Fund for hotspots and internet service for student homes, with a priority on rural, small and medium-sized districts. Districts will be able to apply to receive 50 percent discounts on the cost of hotspot devices and on monthly recurring service charges until Sept. 30, 2020. Further, the CPUC proposes using $5 million from the California Advanced Services Fund to help cover the costs of computing and hotspot devices.

Lastly, Gov. Newsom said the California State Transportation Agency will partner with the City of Sacramento to convert and deploy seven buses to be used as super hotspots. “If that proof of concept is successful, we’ll roll that out more broadly throughout the state of California,” he said.

Several districts, including Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and Merced Union High School District, recently announced they will park school buses throughout their communities for a specific time period to provide internet to students without it at home. The practice has worked well in Coachella Valley USD for several years.