Business Continuity, Connectivity

Helping School Districts Close the Digital Divide in Education

June 2022
Sagenet Blog Digital Divide
By Kirby Okuda

At-home schooling requirements over the past two years further exposed the digital divide between K-12 students who have access to digital technology and those who don’t. Millions of students living in homes without high-speed Internet access fell far behind the academic progress of their better-connected peers, according to new research from Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research.

Using testing data from 2.1 million students between third and eighth grades from 10,000 schools in 49 states, researchers found that students from high-poverty homes lacking Internet access or computers adequate for distance learning experienced up to 50 percent losses in academic achievement.

Meanwhile, researchers at Michigan State University found that the digital divide impacts a range of student performance outcomes. They report that students who lack home Internet access or are dependent on a cell phone alone for access perform lower on a range of metrics such as digital skills, homework completion and grade-point average.

Funding Opportunities

Other studies suggest the gap will create substantial long-term effects. It can affect students’ standardized test scores and their ability to qualify for higher education, which will almost certainly result in lost opportunities and income inequality later in life. In addition, these students lose the chance to become proficient with the technology tools required for most professions these days.

Teachers also struggle with technology access issues, particularly in rural areas with spotty broadband service. Roughly 10 percent of all public school teachers lack home Internet connectivity, according to a report from Boston Consulting Group and Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on media and children.

The federal government is taking aim at this problem with several programs that allocate billions of dollars in grant money to expand access to digital technologies. Here are just a few of these programs:

  • The federal E-Rate program’s Emergency Connectivity Fund provides schools and libraries access to funding for laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and broadband connections for off-campus use by students and school staff.
  • The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year provides grants for the expansion of broadband services to underserved communities.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides funding for hardware, software, connectivity and instructional expertise to support remote learning.
  • The Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program provides funding for the creation of academic enrichment programs during non-school hours, particularly for students attending high-poverty and low-performing schools.
  • The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) provides funding to support in-person, distance and hybrid learning programs for K-12 schools.

A Helping Hand

Although government grants offer wonderful opportunities for school districts to close the digital divide, application processes are notoriously complex. Most programs require the submission of multiple forms and involve several filing deadlines. Requests for proposals usually require detailed descriptions of the technologies being sought. It is estimated that nearly one-quarter of all E-Rate applications are declined because applicants did not follow procedures correctly.

SageNet can help guide school districts through the entire application process. With nearly three decades of experience working with customers in the education sector, we have extensive experience with grant applications. We can help you identify potential funding sources, understand complex program rules and determine product eligibility.

We also can help you realize the best value for your technology investments. We have extensive experience designing, implementing and supporting networking solutions that provide the bandwidth and network capacity needed to support the digital learning initiatives. Contact us to learn more.

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