State awards $80 million to close “digital divide”

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — More than 90 percent of Illinois students are participating in some form of remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

But access to the technology that makes that learning possible isn’t equal for everyone.

That’s what an $80 million-plus grant from ISBE is aimed at correcting, per a release from the agency.

The $80,092,677 comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which funneled money to governors and State Education Agencies. That money has been directed to a Digital Equity Formula Grant, which allocates money to the highest need “Learning Education Agencies” in the state.

Four hundred-and-seventy-one LEAs will receive portions of that funding to buy electronics and expand internet connectivity. The money can also be used to cover similar purchases made since March 13.

More than 1.2 million students are starting the 2020-21 school year with remote learning; 528,000 are learning in a “blended” or hybrid environment.

“Closing the digital divide has been a priority for the agency since March, when the pandemic forced schools statewide to suddenly shift to remote learning,” State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala said in a release. “We saw in the spring that many schools did not have the technology or internet access necessary to connect students and teachers in real-time and to facilitate meaningful remote instruction. We have learned and prepared a lot since the spring, and we are excited to provide our highest-need schools the Digital Equity Formula Grant to strengthen their digital infrastructure this fall and for years to come.”

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