Time running out for free internet vouchers for home learning

Starting this week, vouchers for free broadband internet for school students in Alabama start...
Starting this week, vouchers for free broadband internet for school students in Alabama start going out.(WBRC)
Updated: Oct. 9, 2020 at 8:34 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Governor Ivey set aside $100 million to help students connect to the internet from home, but a lot of that money is going unused.

More than 200,000 families are eligible for the free internet vouchers through the Alabama Broadband Connectivity program.

But less than half have signed up.

So if your child is enrolled in the National School Lunch Program at their school, and you’re paying for internet, you don’t have to be. You can get that bill taken care of through the end of the year.

The vouchers were first mailed out to in September to families with children enrolled in the free and reduced lunch programs .

“I would imagine as well that there could be some skepticism, for some families that may not understand, if I get enrolled in something will I ultimately get charged for this service later,” William Tunnell, with the Alabama Education Association said.

The answer is no. Families will not receive any bills for the service. However, the deal is only good through December 30.

William Tunnell with the Alabama Education Association says he hopes families will use it while they still can.

“We would hope our families that qualify for the free internet service through the CARES act would look into the program and take advantage of it,” Tunnell said.

Bruce Purdy works for North Alabama Electric Co-Op which covers Jackson and part of Marshall counties.

He says he’s afraid families who received the voucher in the mail thought it was junk.

“I would like members of our program to know it is a very legitimate program. I just expected a huge response to it and have been somewhat confused regarding the participation we received,” Purdy said.

A representative for Morgan County Schools tells us more than 3,000 students are eligible for the program. If they have the wrong address on file with the school, they won’t receive the voucher.

The representative says to call the school and confirm your address if your child is enrolled in the free lunch program.

Arab City Schools Superintendent Dr. Johnny Berry gives parents the same advice.

He says the district is now working with ADECA to update all addresses that may be out-of-date.

The voucher letters were sent out later than anticipated, which may have also caused some confusion.

Regardless, Berry says he will do everything he can to help families get access to these funds before it’s too late.

“We do have an option that parents can pull into the school parking lot at the high school and at the junior high and be able to download or upload anything that they may need,” Berry said. “And if they are having major problems just contact us. Let us know. Be in communication with us so we can work together to solve that problem. We don’t want any kid to be behind because of lack of access.”

The voucher letter will tell you what providers are available in your area.

The cost of the installation, equipment and service is all covered. The state has also set up a toll-free phone line: 888-212-4998.

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