When the coronavirus pandemic physically closed New Jersey’s schools in March, approximately 230,000 students lacked appropriate internet connectivity and/or internet devices to facilitate remote learning, Gov. Phil Murphy said at an event today in Irvington.
“Because of COVID-19, our classrooms have been empty, and educators statewide – indeed, nationwide – have traded in their desks for the kitchen table,” Murphy said. “That experience changed the educational experience, and it has also exposed something which we knew existed; it has exposed an untenable divide.”
The estimated cost of closing this “divide” is appropriately $115 million, and Murphy today laid out a plan which would include nearly half of this cost being covered by individual school districts’ existing CARES Act funding and Title I federal funding awards.
Another $10 million would come from state-directed CARES Act elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds, for “one-time digital divide formula grants to districts,” Murphy said.
Up to $44 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund will also be committed towards addressing the digital divide, Murphy said, with some $6 million more to be given to non-public schools for remote learning.
The New Jersey Department of Education, in partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA), is additionally “directly engaging the philanthropic community to get additional help from both philanthropic and industry partners [for] closing this gap,” Murphy said.
The State said in a statement, “NJEDA released today a Request for Information (RFI), seeking information and ideas to bridge the digital divide for New Jersey’s pre-K-to-12 students, including philanthropic support from companies and organizations to help close the digital divide in public schools. The RFI is available here and interested parties will have until July 31, 2020 to respond.”
Murphy added, “Any help we can get from our business and philanthropic community will allow us to stretch our state funds even further, to offset other costs that districts face in reopening.”
He also said, “Corporations, foundations and individuals ask me … ‘How can I help?’ This is a terrific way to help some of our neediest and, by the way – most talented – students and families in New Jersey.”
Murphy explained that if school districts collaborate directly with corporations/philanthropists, this can eliminate bureaucracy.
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