New Mexico Schools Seek Funds for Devices, Internet

The Tularosa, N.M., Board of Education, in a Tuesday special session held online, approved the submission of an application for $477,087 to purchase electronic devices for Tularosa students through the CARES Act.

by Jessica Onsurez, Alamogordo Daily News / May 27, 2020
Shutterstock/cowardlion

(TNS) — The Tularosa, N.M., Board of Education, in a Tuesday special session held online, approved the submission of an application for $477,087 to purchase electronic devices for Tularosa students through the C.A.R.E.S. Act.

The Act distributes the funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, said Tularosa Superintendent Brenda Vigil.

Vigil said, if the application is approved, the funds would be used to help students access education online via digital devices, and even provide access to internet service.

"The money would provide every kid a device," Vigil told board members in attendance.

Board president Cody Hill inquired about providing internet service in the rural area.

Vigil said other school districts in New Mexico have developed unique solutions to address internet access.

Gadsden Independent School District in Doña Ana County initiated a trial program by to bring more internet connectivity to its students. It outfitted school buses as "hotspots" and parked them in the communities of Anapra, Berino, Chamberino and Chaparral. Students and residents were allowed to drive up and connect to the bus hotspot during weekdays.

New Mexico public schools were closed in March as a result of public health emergency orders meant to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes COVID-19 disease.

Though many parts of the state - rural areas in particular - suffer from gaps in internet connectivity, the Public Education Department ordered public schools to move to remote learning.

Per U.S. Census data, just 614,000 New Mexico households had broadband internet subscriptions in 2018: 77 percent of households statewide, and well below the national average of 85 percent that year.

The Tularosa Board members passed the requested application for emergency funds unanimously; a second agenda item listing a Budget Adjustment Request related to the application was also approved.

N.M. lawmakers talk rural internet access

On May 18, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced support of legislation to ensure students have access to internet during the coronavirus pandemic.

Heinrich introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act, a piece of legislation appropriating $2 billion for the endeavor.

Its U.S. House of Representative's companion bill upped that request to $4 billion.

“Now more than ever, as many schools remained closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access is vital for students to continue their education. Closing the digital divide and connecting students with online resources and assistance will be key to ensuring their academic success," said Heinrich.

"I am proud to support this effort in the Senate and will continue to fight for long-term federal investments in broadband infrastructure in rural communities and Indian Country to ensure that every student in New Mexico has access to the internet.”

Along the same vein, Heinrich joined 17 Senate Democrats in signing a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai. In the letter, the lawmakers request the agency extend the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window by 180 days.

According to a news release from Heinrich's office, the extension would allow tribal governments more time "to secure access to unassigned spectrum over tribal lands suitable for both mobile coverage and broadband services as Indian Country continues to be ravaged by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic."

©2020 the Alamogordo Daily News (Alamogordo, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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