Gov. Cooper announces $40 million partnership to improve student access to remote learning

Two events this week highlight continuing efforts to ensure North Carolina students have access to high-speed internet service needed for remote learning during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the release of $40 million to fund NC Student Connect, a new partnership created to help eliminate remote learning barriers that exist for tens of thousands of students.

Most of the money — $30 million – will be spent to distribute 100,000 wireless high-speed hot spots to students who needed them to connect to virtual classrooms.

“Long before COVID-19, expanding access to high-speed internet has been a top priority for my administration, and this pandemic has made the need even more urgent,” said Cooper said in a statement. “NC Student Connect will make critical investments in high speed internet access and remote learning that will help students, health care and businesses in our state.”

When school reopened in August, superintendents estimated that at least 100,000 students still lacked a reliable internet connection at home, Cooper said.

Here’s how the remaining $10 million will be spent:

  • $8 million to create accessible sites in convenient locations across the state such as school parking lots, municipal areas, and state parks, museums and historic sites. The NC Student Connect sites will provide free high-speed internet for students to connect to the Internet to download lessons and complete assignments offline.
  • $2 million for educator professional development, parent training and student involvement in a spectrum of activities that go into effective remote learning. More than 1,300 educators from rural North Carolina already participated in a virtual conference focused on remote learning to help them be better prepared to teach throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

NC Student Connect is a partnership across state government including the Department of Information Technology, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Cooper’s Hometown Strong initiative and the NC Business Committee for Education, an educational nonprofit in the governor’s office.

Most school districts are providing students with remote learning to start the school year.

The pandemic has forced districts to be creative to meet the needs of students having trouble connecting to class instruction.

Guilford County Schools announced this week that it will open 62 schools two Saturdays this month to use as internet hubs by students with limited broadband access. The hubs are in addition to 13 Learning Centers available to students during the week.

“We understand that not all of our families have access to broadband connectivity, and not all parents are able to drive their children to the learning centers during the week due to work conflicts, said Superintendent Sharon Contreras. “We hope these hubs will help eliminate some of those barriers during the remote learning period.”

District leaders hope the hubs will prevent learning loss for students without reliable broadband access. The hubs will continue to operate after the first two weeks if participation rates indicate there’s a need.

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