Governor Greg Abbott has announced a $420 million reimbursement program for Texas schools to allow students to continue learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program will cover costs incurred by Texas public schools that purchased WiFi hotspots or eLearning devices like laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks.
The program is jointly administered by the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Division of Emergency Management using federal CARES Act dollars, and it will reimburse districts for costs incurred since the 2019-2020 school year.
According to Gov. Abbott's office, this reimbursement program builds on the progress made by Operation Connectivity, an initiative to close the digital divide in Texas announced by Governor Abbott in May.
"Thanks to the collaborative approach of Operation Connectivity, students across the state have access to the eLearning resources they need to stay connected and receive a quality education through remote learning," Governor Abbott said. "This reimbursement program will significantly ease the financial burden on Texas public schools that have purchased these crucial eLearning devices and also helps ensure that more students have access to these devices as needed."
The Texas Division of Emergency Management has already reimbursed school systems that purchased technology as a response to the pandemic during the final months of the 2019-20 school year, Abbott's office said.
The Texas Education Agency also directly purchased roughly one million eLearning devices and WiFi hotspots in the summer to be directly distributed to Texas schools.
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Since the start of Operation Connectivity, schools in Texas have acquired more than two million eLearning devices and more than 800,000 WiFi hotspots, totaling 2.8 million devices and hotspots combined and counting, Abbott's office said.
According to Abbott's office, the devices have been directly purchased by the state and school systems, donated by corporate partners, and procured with the help of city and county governments leveraging federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars.
The State of Texas has allocated more than $780 million in CARES Act funding through Operation Connectivity to assist local education agencies in connectivity purchases and reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses, Abbott's office said.
School systems across Texas may apply for these reimbursement funds beginning Friday.
The Texas Education Agency will be holding a webinar that on Friday to provide participants with the details of the application process .
"Throughout the pandemic we have maintained full funding for our schools, including the increased funds provided by House Bill 3, so that our students don't fall behind as we fight the coronavirus," Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said. "Schools have established a wide-range of remote learning programs and have made laptops, tablets and WiFi hotspots available to students who need them to remain on track. This $420 million in federal CARES Act funding for Operation Connectivity, along with the $362 million in federal CARES Act funding that we have already provided, will ensure our schools - particularly in rural areas - remain on the cutting edge during the pandemic."