On July 16, the New Jersey School Boards Association expressed its continued support for efforts to help local school districts obtain the funding and resources needed to close the digital divide. The statement came in response to Gov. Murphy’s announcement that day of a plan intended to ensure that all students have adequate internet access and the technological equipment necessary to participate in virtual instruction.
Approximately 230,000 of New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school students “have been impacted by the digital divide” since the closing of schools, the governor said on July 16. Although efforts by local school districts and the Department of Education have reduced that number, lack of broadband access and technology remains a serious problem.
“Virtual instruction will be part of the educational landscape during the next school year and in the future, even after the pandemic subsides,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “Senator Teresa Ruiz put it succinctly when she said that our schools should be the great equalizer of opportunity. Giving all students the ability to participate in effective online learning is essential to our goal as educators.”
For the 2020-2021 school year, many districts are planning hybrid instructional platforms, combining in-person and remote learning. Additionally, state guidance on school reopening directs districts to be prepared to “pivot” to full virtual learning if warranted by health and safety considerations.
School districts are currently in the process of developing reopening plans for submission to the executive county superintendents for review. With his announcement last week, Gov. Phil Murphy indicated that the documents must include a “detailed plan” for closing the digital divide.
NJSBA has been helping local school districts bridge the digital divide through its TEC cooperative pricing system, a member service that gives school districts access to technological services and equipment at greatly reduced costs. The program is among those cited as a resource by the New Jersey Department of Education in the state’s school reopening plan, “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education.”
The state initiative announced on July 16 will involve approximately $61 million of the federal CARES Act grants that have already been awarded to local school districts; the distribution of $10 million in state-directed grants through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, and $44 million through the state Coronavirus Relief Fund. The plan also involves an appeal to the private sector for monetary contributions, in-kind gifts and grants.