In response to COVID-19 closures, government funding has made it possible for schools to provide more technology for students in their districts, effectively making significant progress toward more equitable education. However, the key in access to equitable education is not only access to the devices and programs themselves but also to the internet to use those devices.
Funding has already made the first part—access to devices—possible. The initial round of federal COVID funds came in the form of the CARES Act in March of 2020. This measure earmarked $13.2 billion to K-12.
The second round came with the COVID Relief Package in December 2020, which gave $54 billion to K-12. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) included the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) aid, which included three rounds, and provided $122 billion to K-12 schools.
Use of ARP and ESSER funding to provide equitable access in education
The deadline for schools to use the funds from the ARP is September 2024. However, the U.S. Department of Education has offered to consider extensions for schools “that have obligated funds for certain capital projects” but have not yet actually liquidated those funds. Schools have leeway, although there are some general guidelines. The funds, in general, are to be used to keep students and staff healthy and safe.
Many schools plan to use some of the funds to improve HVAC, plumbing and upgrades of that nature. Some of the funds will be used to help expand broadband internet access. One early major expenditure for many school districts as classes were forced into online platforms was purchasing devices so that now most students have personal devices provided by the district.
However, as schools are moving forward with spending plans already set over the past few months, administrators must make sure they have plans in place so they will not lose ground toward equitable education.
The next step is making sure students have access to internet that is capable of running the programs on the devices that are necessary for learning.
Access to technology is only one part of the solution
As the Education Week Research Center’s survey points out, “Providing computers to disadvantaged students was only a temporary solution to the larger problem of limited access to computers and high-speed internet services.”
The discrepancy between access is clear. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, inequalities have not been eliminated:
“[I]n September 2020, the percentage of adults reporting that computers were always or usually available was highest for the two household income levels at or above $100,000 and lowest for the two household income levels below $50,000. Similarly, the percentage of adults reporting that internet access was always or usually available was higher for the three household income levels at or above $75,000 than for the three household income levels below $75,000.”
Without access to reliable internet, students cannot make the most of the devices the schools have provided. Luckily, the burden to address the internet issue does not rest solely on the shoulders of school districts.
While the ARP set aside $350 billion for a range of services that included expanding broadband access, in the fall of 2021 President Joe Biden “signed into law a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.”
According to State Tech, “the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act put another $65 billion in broadband funding on the table, $42 billion of which will be in the form of grants to states.”
The primary focus of this program will be expanding broadband access in rural areas. The program will be under the management of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
This is good news for the students who currently do not have access to all of the educational supports that become available with reliable internet to run the digital devices provided by schools.
Of course, the device itself doesn’t make learning happen. Students still need instruction from teachers and access to supplemental support.
Access to equitable education through tutoring
Consider this: If a student needs extra help to make education equitable, where does that extra help come from?
Tutoring has been proven to be an effective intervention, according to EdWeek, which called 1:1 tutoring “the original ‘personalized learning.'” However, tutoring is also expensive. One reason for this is that often teachers are expected to provide that support.
With access to both a computer and reliable internet, school districts have another option. One to one individualized tutoring in an online format is one way to help make education more equitable.
Skoolican provide students with 24/7 academic support through on-demand homework help and 24-hour assignment review across 122+ subjects. Even better, these sessions are with professional educators.
This is especially important when looking at support through the lens of equitable education. Support from parents is not equitable as some parents may not have experience with the subject matter, especially for secondary students, and some students have no parental support.
When school administrators are looking at ways not to lose the ground they have worked so hard to gain through COVID, they must help students not only keep technological access but also gain access to supports that are proven to facilitate student success.