Government

$26 million coming Iowa student internet connections

CARES money to help 'overcome the digital divide'

Schools will be able to use federal money to buy hot spots, like the one shown here, so students can connect to the inte
Schools will be able to use federal money to buy hot spots, like the one shown here, so students can connect to the internet if their homes or rural areas lack that access. State officials on Friday announced the $26 million award. (Supplied photo, 2020)

DES MOINES — About $26 million in federal aid is now available to K-12 public schools, private schools and colleges and universities in Iowa, primarily to increase internet connectivity for students this school year, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday.

Iowa Department of Education officials say $19.3 million in awards under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will go to Iowa’s 327 public school districts and to non-public schools.

The remaining $6.9 million will be earmarked for public and private two- and four-year colleges and universities.

“During an unprecedented pandemic, we have had to adapt, innovate and change the way we do business,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Expanding high-quality broadband connectivity is more important than ever for tele-learning, telework and telehealth.

“This funding will play a critical role in our children’s education, helping to close significant gaps in broadband access for rural schools.”

State education department officials will send the awards directly to districts, which may use them to lease hot spots, which provide a discount on broadband internet service, or to loan devices to qualifying households.

“This is an important step toward ensuring our students and teachers have reliable access to the internet,” said Ann Lebo, director of the state Department of Education. “In an increasingly technology-driven world, it is essential that we overcome the digital divide.”

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The amount of money going to each school will be based on the estimated number of households that lack internet access or struggle to afford it. Allocations are based on a survey the state conducted in June as well as information from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.

The $6.9 million earmarked for public and private colleges and universities may be spent to improve connectivity for students or provide professional development for faculty in online instruction, officials said.

Higher education institutions will have to apply for funds through the state Department of Education.

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