by Vivian Jones
Tennessee’s Department of Education has announced $15 million in matching grants to help school districts provide MiFi devices and data coverage for 100,000 student households without internet access. MiFi devices access the internet over the cellular network using a procedure commonly referred to as “tethering.”
Funds will go to school districts as a matching grant to provide an estimated 100,000 households with internet access for distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. Priority will be given to households most in need.
“100,000 households, most of those households have multiple children who will now have internet access,” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said during a news conference Thursday. “We think it’s incredibly important, not just to address the pandemic, but frankly for children to have access to that regularly. We’re very excited.”
School districts purchasing devices for students will be able to request $150 per household as a reimbursement grant from the state, to be matched with local funds to purchase devices and coverage. State funds will cover both devices and data charges for the first semester, after which districts will be responsible for coverage costs.
“We know for those students who don’t have internet access, and who don’t have devices at home oftentimes are experiencing achievement gaps as it is,” Schwinn said. “If they do not have that access, it is the responsibility of the district and of the state to find solutions to ensure that they do not fall farther behind. We know how hard it is to catch up, and we just don’t have time to waste on child education.”
To receive grant funding, school districts will determine the number of households without internet services in their district and the number of devices needed. The state will provide $150 per household to the school district to provide a device, based on state contracted rates for MiFi devices and data coverage for the first semester.
This new funding comes in addition to a $50 million education technology grant, announced by Gov. Bill Lee last month, that purchased more than 250,000 computers and tablets for students across the state.
The department has also launched a resource hub called Best For All Central with free professional development resources, instructional videos for teachers and school administration. Additionally, the department launched a website of resources for families to help guide families though the remote learning process.
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