Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has allocated $100 million in federal coronavirus relief funding for a public-private partnership to increase internet access for K-12 students who this fall will use distance learning.
Alabama Broadband Connectivity (ABC) for Students will provide vouchers for families of students eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, or based on other income criteria. The vouchers will help cover equipment and service costs for high-speed internet from the fall through Dec. 31. Providers will contract with the state for the service using existing lines and technologies.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama State Department of Education and local school systems have received $435.8 million in federal funds to support safe, in-person instruction and remote learning.
The funding will be used to expand internet access by providing equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, digital service lines and cellular-on-wheels. The type of service for an area will depend on the closest available infrastructure already in place.
“Despite the upheavals in our lives during the past few months and at least into the near future, children must be able to continue their classroom instruction,” Ivey said. “This funding will expand internet access to allow more students to access distance learning while creating smaller classes in schools that provide those options and will also ensure their safety during the pandemic. While I respect those districts that have elected to use remote learning, I fear that a slide will come by keeping our kids at home. These funds will bridge the gap until all students can get back into the classroom as soon as possible.”
Families with children who receive free or reduced school lunch will be notified by mail in August. The Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students website will assist Alabamians with questions as the program nears its launch.
“Once again, we are appreciative of the leadership and resources provided by Gov. Ivey during this unprecedented time in our country’s history,”said Eric Mackey, Alabama superintendent of education. “More than ever before, the immediate need for broadband infrastructure, devices, and connectivity are an integral part of providing Alabama students with a quality education. A huge part of evening the playing field to provide greater equity in educational services will come from closing the digital divide between varying Alabama communities. We still have a lot of work to do, but because of the resources provided by Gov. Ivey, we can head into what we know will be a challenging school year with greater optimism.”
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) is administering the federal funding for the internet program, and has partnered with CTC Technology & Energy to administer the ABC for Students program.
The plan was formulated with the input of the Broadband Working Group, which includes legislatorsand industry experts, organized to gather input and guidance on allocation of the federal funds.
“I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of Gov. Ivey’s working group to utilize federal funds in the CARES Act to provide broadband access to all Alabama students regardless of income. I think Gov. Ivey has a good plan.” said state Rep. Randall Shedd, who is a member of the working group and a leader of the Rural Caucus.
“We have learned in the past several months that internet connectivity is a necessity for everything from education to healthcare and working remotely,” said Sen. Del Marsh, president pro tem of the Alabama Senate. “I am pleased that Alabama is going to enter into this private-public partnership to make internet access available to those low-income households who cannot currently afford it. Economic status should not be a determining factor in receiving quality education, and it should not bar anyone from the ability to access vital online services. Although this is only a temporary solution, I am confident that it will be a bridge to a time when fiber is put in the ground and access to the internet and devices will become standard across Alabama.”