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South Carolina Gov. Announces $6M Computer Lab Initiative

With the help of federal COVID-19 relief funding, Gov. Henry McMaster has announced the creation of eight free-to-use Apple computer labs across the state, with the broader goal of improving Internet access.

by Emily Bohatch, The State / March 31, 2021
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(TNS) — South Carolina will spend $6 million of its federal COVID-19 aid to help tackle broadband deserts across the state.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster awarded the money from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund to the University of South Carolina, which will partner with Benedict College to create eight free-to-use Apple computer labs across South Carolina, according to a Tuesday statement from the governor's office.
 
"The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that Internet access is not a luxury but a necessity for millions of South Carolinians," McMaster said in a statement. "The strategic placement of these labs will bolster South Carolina's premier workforce training efforts by giving our communities and people access to resources they need to expand participation in our state's growing economy."
 
During a press conference, McMaster said the initiative was part of a project aimed at expanding broadband Internet access across the state. He said he is working with the state's congressmen to secure additional funding for broadband expansion.
 
The computer labs' locations were chosen so they would be near historically Black colleges and universities, facilities in the state Technical College System and local school districts that may need them. There will be one lab located in Columbia's BullStreet District and another at Benedict College. Those facilities will have an operating budget of $2 million.
 
"We are pleased to partner with the University of South Carolina to expand educational technology access to communities around the state," Benedict College President Roslyn Clark Artis said in a statement. "Benedict College remains fully committed to narrowing the digital divide for underserved communities in our state. This is a tremendous step in the right direction."
 
Seven other labs, with operating budgets of $571,429 each, will be located at six of USC's Palmetto College and regional campuses, according to the statement. All of USC's Palmetto College campuses chosen for the project are located within 15 miles of a broadband desert. "As the state's flagship institution, the University of South Carolina is committed to enhancing statewide economic and workforce development initiatives," USC President Bob Caslen said in a statement. "By providing access to Apple's coding curriculum and emphasizing creative learning, this partnership is a game changer for our state. The educational programs and training at these learning centers will give South Carolinians relevant skills that are in high demand in today's economy. We are proud to partner with Governor McMaster, Apple and Benedict College in this mission by investing in underserved communities across the state."
 
The labs are free to use by members of faculty, staff, students and community members. Availability will be advertised in each community. Officials expect to get some facilities running within the next 90 days. The labs will be paid for through the CARES Act, which was a coronavirus aid package passed by Congress in March 2020. Each state received money for emergency education relief spending which the governor may direct. South Carolina received $48 million.
 
Tuesday's announcement gives McMaster another path to provide COVID-19 aide to the state's HBCUs, which are all private but for one. McMaster initially pushed to spend $32 million of the funds on one-time tuition grants of up to $6,500 per students who attend K-12 private schools. McMaster's plan was shot down by the State Supreme Court. McMaster's initial plan also allocated $2.4 million for private colleges, including HBCU's, but that money was also frozen by the court decision.
 
©2021 The State, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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