Murphy pledges to close the ‘digital divide’ in N.J. for new school year

When schools moved to online instruction in March, wide disparities in home computer and internet access were a roadblock.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy

File photo New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (Edwin J. Torres/ NJ Governor’s Office).

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday a plan to close the “digital divide” in New Jersey’s K-12 educational system, as schools brace for remote learning to continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not every student has a laptop or other device or a reliable connection to the internet from their home,” Murphy said at a press conference. “And with libraries and community centers closed due to the pandemic, the online access points that many in our communities rely upon are simply unavailable.”

New Jersey schools have been closed to in-person instruction since March, but the state Department of Education estimates that more than 230,000 students don’t have the necessary tools to learn from home.

Murphy said it would cost about $115 million to rectify the problem.

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Under the plan, the state will open up a $10 million grant program for districts to apply for funding to purchase digital devices and internet connectivity for students. The state will set aside up to $44 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund money for public schools, with another $6 million for private schools.

The state will also solicit private donations from companies and organizations for help covering the cost of the rest of the effort.

Murphy said school districts could use existing CARES Act and Title I federal funding to cover the remainder of the cost.

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