Gov. Kay Ivey has allocated $100 million of CARES Act funds to increase internet access for K–12 students using distance learning as they return to school this fall.
Ivey announced the program, called Alabama Broadband Connectivity (ABC) for Students, on Friday. Through ABC for Students, vouchers will be provided to families of students who receive free or reduced meals to help cover the equipment and service costs for high-speed internet service from the fall through the end of the calendar year.
According to a release from the governor's office, the funding will be used to expand access to the internet by providing “equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, DSL and cellular-on-wheels.”
The specific method used for internet service will depend on what type of infrastructure is most readily available to each student.
“Despite the upheavals in our lives during the past few months and at least into the near future, children must be able to continue their classroom instruction,” Ivey said. “This funding will expand internet access to allow more students to access distance learning while creating smaller classes in schools that provide those options and will also ensure their safety during the pandemic. While I respect those districts that have elected to use remote learning, I fear that a slide will come by keeping our kids at home. These funds will bridge the gap until all students can get back into the classroom as soon as possible.”
According to the release, families who have children that get free or reduced lunch will receive a letter outlining the program in August. Families can also visit abcstudents.org for more information about the program.
Athens City Schools has a plan in place to help students wishing to use online learning that do not already have internet access. Tablets are provided to students, and they can rent Verizon MIFI hotspots for $20 a month, according to the system's website.
Limestone County Schools has laptops available for virtual students, but having internet access was a prerequisite before signing up for online-only classes.
Superintendent Randy Shearhouse said at a recent school board meeting that LCS is looking into options for providing internet access for traditional students if they are required to switch to online classes temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have learned in the past several months that internet connectivity is a necessity for everything from education to healthcare and working remotely,” said Sen. Del Marsh, President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate. “I am pleased that Alabama is going to enter into this private-public partnership to make internet access available to those low-income households who cannot currently afford it. Economic status should not be a determining factor in receiving quality education, and it should not bar anyone from the ability to access vital online services.”
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the funds taken from the federal CARES Act for the ABC for Students program.