State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister today announced that 175 Oklahoma school districts have been awarded mobile internet access and devices through 50,000 Verizon Unlimited 4GE data plans and Jetpacks, following a competitive grant process. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) grants leveraged a portion of the agency’s setaside monies from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund created by the federal Coronavirus Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help ensure all students have connectivity to access online learning if community spread of COVID-19 requires districts to use distance or hybrid learning models.
“This pandemic has underscored the inequities of the digital divide that hinder opportunities for so many of our children,” said Hofmeister. “We know one-fourth of our students lack reliable home internet access. Many districts have used a portion of the funds allocated to them under the CARES Act to purchase a sufficient number of devices for every student to have access to technology, an effort we encouraged through incentive grants earlier this summer.
“But a device without connectivity is like a book in a pitch-dark room. We are grateful that this partnership with Verizon and OneNet will make a critical difference in ensuring many thousands of children and families will now have the opportunity for robust distance learning.”
OneNet, a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, provides broadband and internet services to public school districts, libraries and higher education institutions around the state. As a partner in the OSDE initiative, OneNet will provide, at no cost to districts, content filtering and technical support to facilitate the telecom connection between Verizon and the state telecom network. OneNet is assuming the $250,000 value of this support as a contribution to the OSDE initiative and the students in districts awarded the hotspots.
“Now more than ever, internet access is vital for students to fully participate in distance and online learning,” said Vonley Royal, executive director of OneNet and higher education chief information officer. “OneNet is proud to provide services to our state’s students during the pandemic.”
Districts receiving the devices, which Verizon sold to OSDE at a discounted rate, will assign and deploy them under specific requirements. For example, districts awarded hotspots must pay a nominal monthly service fee for unlimited 4G LTE data service for each awarded device for at least six months and assure that devices are assigned only to low-income students.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need to bridge the digital divide and keep students connected to their schools, teachers and each other,” said Andrés Irlando, senior vice president and president of Public Sector and Verizon Connect at Verizon. “Verizon is working to provide connectivity, devices and other solutions to every student in the U.S. who needs them – whether they are back in the classroom fulltime, learning from home or through a hybrid model.”
Verizon expects to ship hotspots to districts so that they will be available when school starts. The company will also provide technical support throughout the school year.
Districts have the opportunity to purchase additional hotspots for students not considered low income and for teachers and staff at the same cost and rate secured by OSDE for the grant.