California schools short 1 million laptops, hot spots ahead of online school year

California schools short 1 million laptops, hot spots ahead of online school year
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When classes resume in California for the fall semester, most if not all schools will be utilizing remote learning, presenting a significant hurdle in a state that needs to procure nearly 700,000 laptops and 300,000 WiFi hot spots to help students learn.

Education officials estimated that 1.2 million students, or 20 percent of the K-12 population, did not have access to the necessary technology to engage in online learning when schools closed in the state earlier this year due to COVID-19, The Sacramento Bee reported.

According to a July survey by the California Department of Education polling school districts, the million technological devices needed to start the semester with an equitable learning situation for all students across the state would cost $500 million.

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The most recent survey reflects a significant spike in the number of needed technological devices compared to survey results from March, which estimated a total need for 150,000 devices. The survey yielded larger results in April, which put the demand at 400,000 computers and 290,000 hot spots.

Cynthia Butler, a spokeswoman for the department of education, told The Sacramento Bee the survey results from July are likely an underestimate of the current need for devices, adding that the results do not reflect the need for replacement devices or devices for new students.

Butler also said the results do not account for the school districts that did not respond to the survey.

“We understand that for students to fully engage in distance learning, they need access to technology,” Butler said. “We continue to work with technology companies, internet service providers and the governor’s office to ensure that learning continues for all of our 6.2 million students.”

The department is focusing on bringing devices into the school districts that need the most assistance but said the current 73,065 computers purchased via the Digital Divide Fund, along with the 86,848 hot spots available, are not enough to satisfy the need based on the survey results.

Google and T-Mobile have donated an additional 100,000 hot spots to California school districts, and state officials plan to procure 37,000 donor-pledged laptops before schools resume session in August.