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Education Leaders Call for Family Internet Access Funds

Ohio education leaders are asking for $4 million in discretionary funding to boost Internet access from CARES Act money designated for education after the coronavirus pandemic showcased the state’s digital divide.

(TNS) — Ohio education leaders are asking Gov. Mike DeWine to spend $4 million in discretionary funding to boost internet access.

The $4 million came from CARES Act money designated for education. The coronavirus pandemic showcased the state’s digital divide, where students in some urban and rural school districts were left without access to internet as schools closed.

Remote learning became more difficult for families without internet access, as connections with teachers were severed and students did not have access to online tools for content distribution.

The Ohio 8, an advocacy group made up of superintendents and teacher union presidents from Ohio’s eight urban school districts, has sent memos to the state asking for this discretionary funding to go to funding broadband and to compensatory services for students with disabilities.

Families with lack of access to broadband among Ohio 8 districts, including Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown, ranged from 15% to an excess of 35%.

Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon said 40 percent of CMSD families do not have an internet connection, in a Ohio 8 virtual meeting on Monday. The district distributed hot-spots, acquired through a one-year contract, to help with the problem.

CMSD is seeking a permanent solution through a partnership with local nonprofit Digital C to create a permanent low-cost option for families. Essentially, CMSD will pay DigitalC a discounted monthly fee of $16 per household to provide a high-speed internet network.

The initiative will begin with 1,000 households in the coming school year and another 8,400 by June 2021.

Gordon has been advocating for the state to allocate capital budget funding to moving internet access toward being a “utility” for families rather than a “luxury.”

Other urban school districts in the Ohio 8 took steps toward alleviating the internet connection problem. In Dayton, the district is working with several for-profit providers to find solutions. Toledo schools also handed out hotspots.

But hotspots aren’t a permanent solution, and giving families access and then taking it away isn’t acceptable, Gordon said.

“The internet problem is not going to go away, we’re not going to be able to cover it up. Me and my colleagues aren’t going to go door-to-door picking up hotspots.”

The governor’s office is in communication with Ohio 8 organizers, but Gordon said a decision on that discretionary funding needs to come sooner rather than later.

“There’s no reason to delay those decisions.”

©2020 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.