MANCHESTER — The state has provided 142,000 devices to pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students who lacked the technology to learn from home, Gov. Ned Lamont announced during a visit to Manchester High School on Wednesday.
When the coronavirus pandemic first hit Connecticut, the state gathered information from every local school district to determine which students were lacking a device or internet connection in their homes, technology that rapidly became essential for remote instruction.
The Partnership for Connecticut, supported by $24 million from the Dalio Foundation, purchased 60,000 laptops, and $43.5 million of the state’s portion of federal CARES Act funding went to 82,000 more laptops and 44,000 internet connections at homes for students in need.
Connecticut is the first state in the country to fill the need for such devices, according to the Lamont administration.
Several area school districts are among those that have received laptops, including 12 for Andover, 280 for Coventry, 2,726 for East Hartford, 294 for East Windsor, 2,242 for Manchester, 200 for Stafford, 1,300 for Tolland, 1,640 for Vernon, 1,398 for Windsor, and 482 for Windsor Locks.
“This initiative has been outstanding; it’s helped so many people,” Manchester Mayor Jay Moran said, adding that teachers are among the frontline employees working throughout the pandemic and have adjusted to a new approach to education.
Lamont noted that the new technology helped close the “digital divides,” particularly for minority students and those in low-income communities.
“Education can’t stop due to COVID,” he said, adding that some students for the first time are getting a “fair shot at the start of life.”
Manchester School Superintendent Matthew Geary said devices have benefited students of all ages and likely will continue to impact the way students are taught in the future.
“This is probably the single-greatest shot to reform education, at least in my lifetime,” he said, adding that “this is probably the greatest single collaboration between schools and families.”
The state also provided high-speed internet access to those who needed it in order for students to log in to their devices effectively at home, giving them opportunities that otherwise didn’t exist.
“We know that this could be life-changing for some,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw said. “The students and teachers who were starved for these devices now have them.”
State Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona noted that about 70% of the state’s students had the opportunity at the start of the school year to attend class in person, but the pandemic exacerbated the “digital divide” that puts some students at a disadvantage compared to their peers.
“We are now leading the nation in removing the tech barriers that stood in the way of every child receiving a world-class education,” he said.
The state also used $266 million in federal CARES Act funding to help districts prepare to adhere to safety measures, such as masks and social distancing. McCaw said the funding represents the largest per-student allocation of such funds of any state in the country.
National education leaders are praising the milestone reached in Connecticut.
“This pandemic has made it abundantly clear that in the 21st century, all students deserve access to the educational resources they need to thrive not only in the classroom but also at home,” President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Thanks to the remarkable work of Gov. Lamont and the state of Connecticut, our nation is one step closer to closing our digital divide and achieving equitable educational opportunities for all students.”
Adam Safir, director of the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, said in a statement the public-private partnerships and bulk purchases of devices are “great examples of putting CARES Act funding to its best use.”