The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to shift towards remote and hybrid learning, which has shined a bright light on the digital divide in education.
In a move to close the gap, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced Sept. 21 that 471 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will receive $80,092,677 in funding as part of the Digital Equity Formula Grant, which comes from the CARES Act. The funding will help the 1.2 million students doing distance learning and 528,000 doing hybrid learning. LEAs will be able to purchase new devices for students and staff and expand Internet connectivity. Given that many schools made the shift to distance learning last spring, LEAs can also submit for reimbursement for purchases made since March 13, 2020.
“Closing the digital divide has been a priority for the agency since March when the pandemic forced schools statewide to suddenly shift to remote learning,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “We saw in the spring that many schools did not have the technology or internet access necessary to connect students and teachers in real-time and to facilitate meaningful remote instruction. We have learned and prepared a lot since the spring, and we are excited to provide our highest-need schools the Digital Equity Formula Grant to strengthen their digital infrastructure this fall and for years to come.”
The program is specifically targeting the “highest-need” LEAs in Illinois, meaning school districts, state-authorized charter schools, university lab schools, and alternative and safe school programs administered by Regional Offices of Education with an Evidence-Based Funding Final Percent of Adequacy of 70 percent or lower in fiscal year 2020 or FY 2021.