On March 19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Reimagine New York Commission announced the launch of ConnectED NY, which will provide free internet access to economically disadvantaged schools until June 2022.
During the past year of remote learning, internet access is more important than ever and the New York State Education Department 2020 survey found that about 166,000 students still don’t have internet access in their homes. The program from Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation will give about 50,000 students access to hotspots and data plans with their $10 million in funding.
“To reimagine education and create real opportunity, every student needs access to the internet,” said Eric Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Futures and chair of the Reimagine New York Commission in the press release. “The ConnectED NY fund will provide hotspots and data plans for students that need them most. This is a step forward in rebuilding a New York that works for all students, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”
Currently, 209 school districts across the state are eligible for the ConnectED program. The eligible school districts were listed by priority, with the first three districts being: Putnam in Washington County, Wyandanch in Suffolk County and Brentwood in Suffolk County.
The school districts that were identified as the most economically disadvantaged have a certain percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged that is above the state average.
The program’s funds will be distributed to the most economically disadvantaged districts in priority order until the funds run out.
The intent of ConnectED NY is to close the connectivity gap by providing students the equal opportunity for remote learning.
The eligible school districts will work with AT&T, Digital Promise, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that aims to improve opportunities to learn, and other internet providers to identify students who don’t have internet access or “do not have access to sufficient broadband speeds to participate in remote learning,” according to the press release.
The cost for internet access will not be the responsibility of the children or their families since it will be covered by the fund. In a case where the internet connection needs to be fixed, the school district and the program will work with the providers to ensure that the connection is fixed at no cost to families.
Eligible districts can apply for the program through https://connectedny.digitalpromise.org/. The application process will require an “Intent to Apply” form through the website, for the school districts to reach out to their students and caregivers to confirm the needs for internet access and secure the at-home learning devices that students will use to connect to the internet.
Once all those steps are completed, the districts can submit their applications along with the address spreadsheet provided on the ConnectED webpage.
“Internet access is an essential utility in the 21st century — a new reality that has only been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic — and we have a responsibility to ensure our students have the access they need to continue learning during this public health crisis,” Gov. Cuomo said in the press release. “We cannot build back better if we do not foster proper development and a promising future for our children, and this program will help students whose families have limited means to get connected so they can get the education they deserve.”