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States Boards Advance Digital Equity during the Pandemic


Alexandria, VA—The pandemic illuminated longstanding inequities in digital access, especially for Black, Hispanic, and low-income K-12 students. Even though most schools have now returned to in-person learning, the “homework gap” persists. Nearly 17 million school children lack access to internet or devices at home, limiting their opportunities in increasingly connected learning environments.

Early this week, the Biden administration emphasized its support for ensuring digital access and opportunity for digital learning beyond the pandemic with its announcement of a plan to work with service providers to make high-speed internet more affordable for low-income families.

In line with this goal, several states have made strides on digital equity in schools through effective data gathering, engaging partners and stakeholders in state efforts, buying devices and software for students and households, and focusing on key learning standards.

  • The New York Board of Regents in partnership with the state education department convened three summits in early 2021 to explore digital inequity in the state and develop a set of strategic goals for addressing it. The New York State Digital Equity Portal maps the percentage of broadband access among households and disadvantaged communities, thus checking off one of the first short-term goals of the strategic framework.
  • The West Virginia State Board of Education approved collection of new data elements on access to household technology and internet within their statewide education information system to help the state gauge progress toward its digital equity goals.
  • The Idaho State Board of Education approved spending part of the state set-aside from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, along with a $30 million grant from the Governor’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, for digital equity, calling on local education agencies to partner with community stakeholders to help maximize the impact of funds devoted to closing gaps in students’ access to digital technology.
  • Through the Mississippi Connects initiative, the state purchased more than 325,000 devices for students and teachers and provided them with online instructional materials and learning tools, enhanced connectivity, professional development, and other technology supports. It also expanded student access to telehealth services during distance learning.
  • The Utah State Board of Education ensured that the state’s ESSER funds addressed the lack of broadband infrastructure and need for resources among students on reservation land.
  • Through collaboration with local and state education agencies and education technology organizations, the California State Board of Education issued California Digital Learning Integration and Standards Guidance in May 2021 to focus on pivotal standards and to help teachers shift standards-aligned instruction seamlessly between in-person and virtual settings.

“Armed with heightened knowledge of the gaps that came out of the pandemic, states can now better advance efforts to connect all students to digital learning opportunities moving forward,” writes Joseph Hedger, NASBE’s associate editor.

Read and share State Strategies to Advance Digital Equity.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

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