Gov. Jay Inslee announced the allocation of $24 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds to purchase approximately 64,000 computing devices for students across the state.
These devices will enable students to receive their education in the new COVID-19 remote learning environment. The first shipment of 20,000 devices is expected in the coming weeks, according to a Oct. 30 Governor’s Office news release.
“Having their own device is vital to students and staff participating and succeeding in distance learning,” Inslee said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at every Washingtonian, especially working families and students — having the proper equipment to navigate their new educational reality shouldn’t be one of those challenges.”
At the beginning of the 2020–2021 school year, more than 95% of students in Washington began the year in remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the nine regional educational service districts, approximately 64,000 students and school staff statewide do not currently have their own computing device or tablet.
The governor, along with Educational Service Districts and OSPI, will work to identify which districts will receive the first shipment of devices in early November.
Due to the impacts of COVID-19, the current manufacturing and global supply chain for computing devices is limited. Many districts that have devices on order have had their delivery dates pushed to six weeks, three months or more. And some districts just simply don’t have enough CARES Act or local funding to make all the purchases necessary. Bulk procurement on the part of the state will help to bring devices to Washington more quickly — and at a lower rate.
Devices must meet the needs of students and local districts, provide adequate technical specifications, and be available in the near-term at a competitive price. Due to the source of funding, devices must be received before the end of the year.
“With most of our students learning from home right now, one critical need has been access to technology,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. “Since last spring, school districts across the state have deployed hundreds of thousands of laptops and tablets to students so they can learn remotely. I’m grateful to the governor’s office for their partnership as we continue to close the digital divide.”
While having a device is necessary to participate in distance learning, connectivity to the internet also poses a barrier to participating in remote learning. To help meet this need, OSPI has allocated $8.8 million in CARES Act funds to buy internet plans for 60,000 families who cannot afford them. In addition, the state has set up more than 600 WIFI hotspots across Washington, with the governor reviewing proposals to further speed up the state’ path to universal broadband connection.