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Closing Education’s Digital Divide Will Cost Billions in USA

Closing Education’s Digital Divide Will Cost Billions

As many of the American pupils close in on a year of virtual remote learning, public policy analysts are highlighting the scope of the digital divide and ways in which policymakers can close it.

While policymakers have made efforts to expand access to computers and broadband since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, analysts say up to 12 million K-12 students remain underserved.

The divide also severely affects Black, Latino and Indigenous students, who make up about 55 percent of disconnected students, while representing about 40 percent of total affected students, according to the report.

Sixty percent of disconnected K–12 students’ families are unable to afford digital devices, and about 25 percent, many of them rural and Native American, lack access to reliable broadband service entirely. Approximately 40 percent also face “insufficient digital literacy or language barriers.”

Schools across the country received $1.5 billion in federal CARES Act funding last year to help close these gaps as schools pivoted to virtual learning amid school closures. States also took the initiative to mitigate the divide with limited resources.

Texas launched Operation Connectivity, which provided about 1 million laptops and 500,000 hot spots. Oklahoma used grants to award 50,000 devices and data plans across 175 districts.

Vermont provided $3,000 per family to offset line extension fees, while Alabama allocated $100 million and Ohio allocated $50 million for efforts geared toward expanding connectivity and access to devices.

In December, federal lawmakers approved additional COVID-19 relief funding for schools, including $50 billion which can be used for pandemic-related expenses including distance learning.

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