Murphy unveils plan to address digital divide for students

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IRVINGTON, NJ — On July 16, Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled his administration’s plan to address unmet technological needs for students in New Jersey schools, from pre-K through 12th grade. Efforts to ensure reliable internet connectivity and access to one-to-one digital devices are critical as the state looks ahead to the 2020-2021 school year and the reopening of schools, many of which are preparing reopening plans employing a hybrid schedule of both in-person and continued remote learning due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“One thing the 2019-2020 school year taught us is just how resilient and innovative our students and educators can be, particularly in times of crisis,” Murphy said. “By taking these steps to close the digital divide and equip students in need with personal device access and internet connectivity, we can ensure that students continue to succeed in these unprecedented times.” 

The administration’s approach to closing the digital divide is three-pronged and consists of the following: 

  • The New Jersey Economic Development Authority released a Request for Information, seeking information and ideas to bridge the digital divide, including philanthropic support from companies and organizations.
  • The DOE will offer a one-time $10 million formula grant using a portion of the state’s federal CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. This funding will be disbursed to public school districts to purchase digital devices and internet connectivity for one-to-one student use based on need and the availability of philanthropic donations.
  • After philanthropy and ESSER Fund grants have been exhausted, the administration will redirect Coronavirus Relief Fund monies to close any remaining gap and fill the unmet digital device and internet connectivity needs of New Jersey students. 

“The digital divide leaves too many students in need at a severe disadvantage in gaining equal opportunities in education, and much more needs to be done,” state Senate President Steve Sweeney said. “Reading, writing and arithmetic are not enough without a laptop. The coronavirus and resulting school shutdowns have exposed how punishing this divide is for students who just can’t afford computers and other modern technologies that are considered a basic supply in most communities. Let’s take advantage of the lessons we are learning from this crisis to help close the divide and give our students the technological supplies they need.” 

“This pandemic has brought into sharp focus the educational consequences of students going without adequate access to technology at home,” Assembly speaker Craig Coughlin said. “While we cannot predict whether schools will again need to close, we must be better prepared. No student should be going without access to the tools and educational resources the vast majority of their peers have been able to enjoy. By bridging this digital divide, we can secure educational equity for students in New Jersey not only now, but in our future beyond this crisis.” 

“The pandemic created an unforeseen and unprecedented reality for Irvington, one that saw many of our students struggle due to lack of access to digital devices and the internet,” Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss said. “On behalf of the parents, educators and students in our city, I would like to thank Gov. Murphy for taking these steps and helping students not only in Irvington but around the state have the tools they need to ensure a successful school year.” 

“At the onset of this pandemic, many of our students were without computers and Wi-Fi,” Irvington Superintendent of Schools April Vauss said. “While my staff worked diligently to meet this unparalleled task of remote learning and to replicate our standards for engaging and quality instruction, we still lacked the ability to fully close the gap in technological access. I know the challenges our district has faced in terms of the digital divide, and I fully support Gov. Murphy’s initiative as we continue working to bridge the gap in student needs and as we look ahead to reopening schools throughout New Jersey.”

Photos Courtesy of Tony Vauss