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Shipment Brings Devices to All Pittsburgh Students, Teachers

Pittsburgh Public Schools expects to receive sometime this week the last 200 of the more than 23,000 devices it needed to ensure that all students and teachers have a district-issued laptop or iPad.

by Andrew Goldstein, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / November 23, 2020

(TNS) — Pittsburgh Public Schools expects to receive sometime this week the last 200 of the more than 23,000 devices it needed to ensure that all students and teachers have a district-issued laptop or iPad.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the district — and many others around the country — to transition to virtual instruction, making devices imperative for education.

The 200 devices have not yet been delivered, but are being configured with the necessary software, according to district spokeswoman  Ebony Pugh , who said delivery should be sometime this week.

Soon after the pandemic forced building closures in the spring, Superintendent  Anthony Hamlet  said he wanted the city schools to have 1-to-1 device parity, meaning that all district students and teachers would have a school-issued laptop or iPad.

But the undertaking was delayed because of issues with the national supply chain as well as early uncertainty of federal funding through the CARES Act, which is distributed by the state, according to a report released last week by city Controller  Michael Lamb .

"This crisis is putting local school districts in a tough spot when it comes to balancing their budgets,"  Mr. Lamb  said in a statement. "Making sure the state follows through with reimbursements for the district's purchases is imperative to avoid painful budget cuts that could hurt students' ability to get a quality education."

The city controller's office found that the district will spend nearly $11 million on devices, including accessories and warranties. But the district has only been reimbursed about $1.8 million for these aid-eligible purchases from the state Department of Education.

When a district's application for federal funding like the CARES Act is fully approved by the state Department of Education, the entire allocation is entered into a financial accounting information system, according to a department spokeswoman.

"Monthly payments are forecast based on the approved date and the length of the grant," the spokeswoman said. "In the Pittsburgh SD example, it was approved on 9\/2. Monthly payments are scheduled as $586,674.58.

"If Pittsburgh has more expenditures than their monthly payment reimburses for, they can request an expedited payment," she continued. "Also, if PPS has obligated all of their [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] funds, they can submit a final expenditure report and receive the rest of their allocation at this time."

The city controller's report said that as of Sept. 18 the district had 21,784 students enrolled and 1,921 teachers for a total of 23,705. The district has received the final 6,000 devices it had ordered over the past month with the final 200 arriving this week, bringing the total to 23,719.

The district, though, said most students who did not receive a school-issued device by the start of the year were using a personal device for instruction.

The controller's report estimated that about 336, or 1.55%, of all district students have been completely absent from remote learning. Administrators believe that some of those students have left the district, but they are working to track each child.

"While school districts everywhere are facing an unprecedented situation, it's up to the school administration to make sure no students are left behind,"  Mr. Lamb  said. "While that absence rate is lower than what we might have expected, it's on the district to keep that rate down and start to look at not just attendance, but how many students are falling behind without in-person instruction."

(c)2020 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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