State superintendent identifies resources, partnerships available to support successful distance learning in the fall

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and leaders serving on the Closing the Digital Divide Task Force identified new resources and partnerships today to support California schools preparing for distance learning this fall.

An archived broadcast of today’s task force hearing and past hearings can be watched on the California Department of Education Facebook page.

The task force, co-chaired by Senator Connie Leyva, has been working since April to help equip all California students with computing devices and connectivity as schools prepare for the new academic year.

Among the resources identified Thursday include more than $5 billion available in the state budget to school districts to acquire devices, strengthen distance learning and address learning gaps. Task Force members also learned more about the progress of a multi-million dollar initiative spearheaded by Intel Corp. to support online learning.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic forces more school districts to resume virtual learning in the fall, this work grows increasingly urgent,” Thurmond said. “But it is not insurmountable: Together, I believe we have the opportunity to rapidly build on the progress we already have made to date to close the digital divide. Hundreds of thousands of students still lack the basic tools to connect to their learning. This is unacceptable, and now is the time to accelerate our efforts so that no student is left behind.”

The California Department of Education estimates more than 700,000 students still lack computing devices and another 300,000 lack hotspots to connect to the internet. Subsequently, Thurmond has launched a campaign asking more than 100 of California’s top private industry partners, businesses and donors to contribute to a $500 million initiative that would provide the technological resources to these students.

Leyva agreed with Thurmond on the urgency of meeting this need.

“As the vast majority of California students will start the upcoming school year learning remotely, it’s important that we strengthen distance learning and address the lack of access and connectivity for students across the state,” she said. “It is critical that we minimize learning loss and expand ongoing opportunities for the continued success and achievement of all students.”

Ben Chida, chief deputy cabinet secretary for California Governor Gavin Newsom, provided an update on Learning Loss Mitigation Funds authorized by the 2020–21 state budget, which allocates $5.3 billion to local educational agencies to support transitional kindergarten through twelfth grade academic achievement, mitigate learning gaps exacerbated by COVID-19 school campus closures, and purchase computing and connectivity devices. School districts are now able to apply for these funds.

Intel provided an additional example of ways the private sector can partner on solutions. During the task force hearing, Intel representatives Gregg Descheemaeker and Darrell Stewart presented an update on the Intel Pandemic Response Technology Initiative, which supports education-focused nonprofit organizations and business partners to provide students without access to technology with devices and online learning resources. By partnering with public school districts, the initiative will enable PC donations, online virtual resources, study-at-home guides, and device connectivity assistance.

Thurmond’s Digital Divide Task Force and CDE have played a key role in facilitating the shipment of more than 73,000 computing devices to hundreds of school districts statewide. These devices were provided by donations to the Bridging the Digital Divide Fund by philanthropy, companies, and individuals through the fund’s GoFundMe page. Among the recipients are more than 16,000 homeless students and another 2,000 students in the foster system.

Additionally, the task force has worked with districts and the California Public Utilities Commission to subsidize nearly 87,000 hotspots for students in 368 school districts. Additionally, to date, 100,000 hotspots have been delivered to more than 200 school districts across the state thanks to T-Mobile and Google donations.

After multiple task force hearings, Internet Service Providers are now also making meaningful commitments. ISPs have opened up their hotspots for public access and now have dedicated staff who can more quickly resolve problems with accessing low-income services. The task force and CDE have directly assisted ISPs in moving forward with internet infrastructure projects by connecting them to the new Broadband Coordinator at Caltrans. And with more barriers removed for low-income households, students in many parts of the state now have access to reduced-cost Wi-Fi where available.

The California Department of Education is a state agency led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. For more information, please visit the California Department of Education’s website. You may also follow Superintendent Thurmond on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.