Last spring when Washington’s K–12 schools were closed for in-person learning, school districts across the state pulled together every laptop, tablet, smartphone, and wifi hotspot they could so students were able to continue learning and educators could continue teaching.
This spring, to help with COVID-related costs, Congress allocated $195 million to Washington’s school districts and $21 million to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for statewide coordination and support.
Last week, the Legislature and the Office of Financial Management (OFM) released $8.8 million of OSPI’s share of the funds so OSPI could coordinate and pay for getting students connected to their coursework online.
“With these funds, we will be able to connect up to 60,000 students and their families to online learning,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “This was my number one priority for CARES Act funding, and I know this will make a huge difference for a lot of students and their families.
OSPI plans to enter into agreements with private partners to provide internet connectivity to students who are low-income. OSPI will cover the costs of internet for these families through the end of the 2020–21 school year.
“Access to internet is an equity issue, and I intend to use this jump start of one-time federal funds to create a push for universal basic education connectivity,” Reykdal continued. “I am thankful the Legislature and OFM released these funds to us.
Two weeks ago, OFM and the Legislature released $2.5 million for professional development for educators to learn to effectively use and streamline online learning platforms. With the remaining roughly $10 million provided by Congress to OSPI, the agency intends to fund competitive grants for community-based organizations (CBOs) to work in partnership with local school districts to support student learning in the 2020–21 school year.
“We know the pandemic has further exacerbated gaps in access to learning for some of our students,” Reykdal said. “Our system has transformed very rapidly to create a more predictable and effective remote learning experience for students and families this fall. Moments of crisis create opportunities, and our investments in training, connectivity, and community-based partners will make us a stronger public education system when we put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.”
Within the next couple of weeks, school districts will provide instructions and details on internet connectivity to students and families who may be eligible.