State leaders look at using CARES Act to buy devices for students

State lawmakers look at using CARES Act to buy devices for students

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Some state leaders are looking at requesting CARES Act money to buy devices for students to use this school year.

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey participated in a meeting with members from Google, Apple and Microsoft earlier this week to look at what technology and support the companies could provide, according to Marsh.

“We’re ready to invest dollars in technology to make sure children in this state have the access or the equipment they need to learn,” Marsh said.

Marsh said $300 million in CARES Act money from the federal government can be used for computer equipment. He said they are waiting on proposals from the tech giants and waiting on the Alabama State Department of Education’s reopening plan. Then a request would be sent to the governor on how they propose using the money, Marsh said.

“We also know we have an immediate need. Our children are going to be starting back to school in this COVID environment in August,” Singleton said. “And how do we make sure that every child when they go back to school in August, had the same opportunity across the state?”

There are districts that already provide devices like iPads and Chromebooks for students. Leaders say the additional devices would help fill in the gaps for students who don’t have any.

Marsh said it will be up to local districts to decide whether they want the additional devices and support.

“We want individual systems to be able to choose what they want to work with,” Marsh said.

Marsh said a study last year showed it would cost $50 million to provide every K-3 student with a device.

Lack of access to broadband has become an even more pressing matter during the pandemic.

Mackey has said when school opens up, students would be able to choose to study at home or in the classroom. However, there are parts of Alabama that do not have broadband, also known as high-speed internet. This is a barrier for some students preventing them from using technology to study at home.

“We think that that is is something that is a number one issue for us to be able to tackle,” Singleton said.

Marsh said it could take two years to fully implement broadband in Alabama.

“I think we need to put together a very methodical process to get the state fully covered as quickly as we can and to until that happens,” he said.

The Alabama State Department of Education had originally planned to announce this week its plan to reopen schools this fall. That has been pushed back to the following week.

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