Officials: CT will be first to meet tech needs of at-home learners

MANCHESTER — By mid-month, Connecticut is poised to fully meet reported home learning device needs of its public school students, Governor Ned Lamont announced Wednesday.

Using data it culled from other states, Connecticut officials say it will be the first state in the nation to provide such access, having distributed 142,000 learning devices during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Every local school district has shared data with the State Department of Education on the number of students without a learning device or internet connection in their homes since the outset of the pandemic in March.

The nonprofit organization Partnership for Connecticut spent $24 million in March to provide 60,000 laptops to high school students in need. In July, the state committed another $43.5 million investment from federal CARES Act funding to buy 82,000 more laptops and 44,000 at-home internet connections for students.

Combined, the two initiatives have invested more money per student in remote learning since March than all but two other states in the nation, according to the state.

The state’s investment also closed a reported 28 percent home device gap, according to the governor’s office.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday that he is proud of the investment.

“One of my top priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to minimize learning disruptions for Connecticut students and see that every K-12 student has the educational technologies they need to thrive in school,” Lamont said. “Over the past eight months, we made significant progress in closing digital divides, especially for students of color and those in low-income communities.”

While some districts were able to “flip the switch” between in-person and at home learning in the spring, others lost weeks — if not months — of instruction because schools and teachers could not reach students at home who lacked technology or connectivity.

Connecticut is among 16 states that have invested in at home computer access for students since the pandemic began. The state expects the last of its 142,000 device distribution to be complete mid-month in Stratford, officials said.

“We know we are in a health pandemic,” Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona said during the announcement made Wednesday from the Manchester High School gymnasium. “We are also in an education crisis.”

Melissa McCaw, the state’s secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said $266 million worth of CARES Act funds have been used to support the state’s schools.

McCaw called it an investment and one of the largest state funding plans, per-pupil, for bridging the so-called digital divide. Connecticut’s investment amounts to $131.86 per student, higher than any other New England state for which data was available.