About 70,000 students across California will begin receiving laptops, tablets and other devices this week as private companies help the state address the digital divide among families who now have to continue their children’s education at home.
Speaking at a state news conference on Monday, first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom acknowledged her family’s privileges compared to the one in five households that don’t have the sufficient tools for remote learning as classrooms remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the state, a recent parent survey found 50% of low-income families and 42% of families of color reported lacking a laptop or tablet necessary for distance learning.
In light of this disparity, Siebel Newsom, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond and other officials reached out to the private sector for help.
Apple, Sprint, T-Mobile, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon and others have stepped up, Siebel Newsom said. This has enabled the state to distribute hotspot devices, Chromebooks and other tools to students in need.
Officials are working with school districts to determine where help is needed, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, calling the support from the private sector “unprecedented.”
In addition to companies that have donated devices, philanthropists have given at least $3 million to support children’s education in California.
Officials said the state will use the funds to buy computers and hotspots for school districts, which will prioritize providing the devices to rural and low-income communities.
“This is a great start, but our work must continue,” Superintendent Thurmond said.
“Nothing replaces the importance of a great teacher, but these tools connect our kids to teachers, and our kids have to have them. And our digital divide has gone on longer than this pandemic,” Thurmond said.
To supplement contribution from the private sector, the California Public Utilities Commission will set aside $25 million to provide hotspots and Wi-Fi, as well as $5 million to procure additional Chromebooks and iPads for students.
In Sacramento, city officials are working with the California State Transportation Agency to convert seven school buses into mobile hotspots by May 1. If it’s successful, the initiative will be rolled out across the state, Newsom said.
Authorities discussed the effort to help families struggling with remote education as the reopening of schools remains out of sight.
COVID-19 deaths in the state crossed the 1,000-mark over the weekend, when Newsom discussed a state initiative to help vulnerable Californians experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.
As of Monday, the state has confirmed a total of 1,208 COVID-19 deaths — 42 more than in the previous day.
Hospitalization rates increased 1.9% from the day before, while ICU rates jumped 2.8%.
“These, again, are not statistics,” Newsom remarked. “These are human beings, stories, journeys — each and every one of them precious. And our heart goes out to their families and loved ones.”
While hospitalization rates are beginning to flatten, they’re still growing, the governor said, adding that California has not seen the downward trend needed to get to a recovery roadmap.
More details on California’s path to recovery will be released Wednesday, Newsom said.