AUGUSTA, Maine — On Thursday Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Pender Makin announced that the State has secured internet access for students who were facing connectivity issues. Makin and the Mills Administration says 100 percent of Maine students who reported connectivity issues through their school will now have internet access for remote learning purposes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Through a combined effort with the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, ConnectME, and business and philanthropic entities, the DOE has acquired 14,494 service contracts through three different service providers in order to facilitate home learning.
Through one of the service providers, DOE was also able to order MiFi, a wireless router that acts as a mobile WiFi hotspot, to fulfill internet-only needs. To fulfill the device only needs, Maine DOE was able to order 7,450 Chromebooks.
“The suspension of classroom-based instruction because of the Pandemic has brought on new challenges and we should all be grateful for how Maine’s educators have adapted to provide a quality education to our children,” Mills said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to ensure that Maine’s teachers, and all students, have the tools they need to stay connected during these unprecedented times. These new connections will allow Maine students to do just that and stay engaged remotely with their school no matter where they live."
All schools that indicated a need are receiving the information and devices directly from the vendors, the DOE says. Need was assessed by the DOE through several surveys of all traditional and non-traditional public schools and private schools that serve public students in order to understand the connectivity needs statewide.
Of the 21,845 students statewide lacking connectivity, based on data from the 75 percent of schools that responded, 14,494 students needed a wireless contract and 7,351 students needed only a device in order to have equitable access to online learning opportunities.
The DOE says the need for universal connectivity was identified as the top priority of stakeholders across the state in terms of mitigating the impact of COVID-19 disruption.
A fourth round of surveys has just been completed for schools to report student connectivity needs, and DOE is working now to fulfill the final round of requests.
The department has also reached out to both higher education institutions and adult education programs to determine their student connectivity needs.
“This pandemic and the educational disruption brought to light the extreme inequities that exist across our state,” Makin said. “The emergency provision of connectivity to all students allows for educational continuity, and I am grateful to our team for their strategic and efficient execution of this enormous effort.”
The Mills Administration utilized federal funds, including a portion of Maine’s $9.3 million allocation from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which was allocated through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as well as philanthropic donations, to purchase the devices and wireless service contracts to meet the identified need for universal connectivity for Maine students.
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