AURORA, IL — East Aurora District 131 is set to receive nearly $789,000 from a state grant that aims to help close the digital gap among students in Illinois.
The funds are meant to help the district cover the costs of e-learning devices and improve internet connectivity, according to a news release from the Illinois State Board of Education.
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker and ISBE officials announced Monday that 471 school districts will receive funding totaling more than $80 million through the Digital Equity Formula Grant, established with funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
“With this commitment of $80 million in funding to closing the digital divide, we are building on the same goals we’ve pushed since the beginning of my administration, creating a pipeline of high-quality learning from cradle to career,” Pritzker said in the release.
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“Throughout this crisis, I have been so impressed to see all the creative ways superintendents and teachers adapted to the pandemic, a spirit of ingenuity that stretched up into our higher education institutions, too,” Pritzker continued. “This pandemic has heightened every inequality and injustice in our nation and our educators are on the front lines of seeing our young people through this moment.”
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More than 1.2 million students are starting the 2020-21 school year with remote learning and about 528,000 are learning in a blended or hybrid environment, comprising nearly 92 percent of all students in Illinois, according to officials. The Digital Equity Formula Grant is meant to ensure students have the technology they need to access equitable learning opportunities.
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Many school districts have already purchased devices and expanded connectivity since the pandemic began, and they may use the grant to purchase additional devices or to cover purchases made since March 13. Districts will receive reimbursement after submitting an application and quarterly expenditure reports.
East Aurora District 131 spent more than $2.2 million in the spring to buy 6,000 iPads for its elementary students after the district switched to remote learning due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
District 131 students are set to learn from home through at least Nov. 3.
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“Closing the digital divide has been a priority for the agency since March, when the pandemic forced schools statewide to suddenly shift to remote learning,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “We saw in the spring that many schools did not have the technology or internet access necessary to connect students and teachers in real-time and to facilitate meaningful remote instruction. We have learned and prepared a lot since the spring, and we are excited to provide our highest-need schools the Digital Equity Formula Grant to strengthen their digital infrastructure this fall and for years to come.”
The district is working to reintroduce “self-contained students and other special populations” back into classrooms this month.