$18 million for high-speed internet for schools announced by Rep. Pete Aguilar – San Bernardino Sun

During the pandemic, California’s public school districts largely switched to online education from March 2020 through the end of the 2020-21 school year.

That move exposed how many students and school districts didn’t have access to good internet service.

Newly available federal funding aims to change that in San Bernardino County.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino, announced March 17 that Inland Empire school districts and libraries will receive $18.1 million to improve high-speed internet access.

“High-speed internet is a necessity, not a luxury,” Aguilar said in a news release. “No one should fall behind in school or miss out on learning because they can’t connect to the internet.”

The money comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. That program, in turn, was financed by the 2021 American Rescue Plan, which focused on providing coronavirus relief funding to communities.

In addition to improving on-campus internet infrastructure, like modems and routers, the fund will help cover the costs of laptops and tablets, along with Wi-Fi hotspots and other broadband internet purchases for students, staff and library patrons off campus.

Districts and schools benefiting from the money include:

  • Central School District: $1.8 million
  • Colton Joint Unified School District: $1.6 million
  • Etiwanda Elementary School District: $532,358
  • Real Journey Academies: $129,300
  • Rialto Unified School District: $7 million
  • San Bernardino City Unified School District: $6.9 million

Experts have long warned of the dangers of the “digital divide” between how well the urban and affluent and the rural and poor can access the internet. But when Gov. Gavin Newsom closed campuses in March 2020, what had been a looming threat became an emergency. School districts scrambled to purchase Chromebooks and other devices, train teachers and staff who might lack expertise and confidence in online education and help students trapped at home get internet access that many did not have.

“Students today cannot be competitive in the workforce of tomorrow with part-time access to technology. This ECF funding will help create equity in our community and opportunity for kids to learn at home as well as in school,” Harry “Doc” Ervin, superintendent of the San Bernardino City Unified School District, said in the release. “We applaud Congress for lengthening the bridge we are building over the digital divide in our region with this investment in our children and families.”

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