Lafayette school system commits $1.5 million to provide internet for qualifying students

The Lafayette Parish School Board could spend up to $1.5 million to help needy families with internet access as the system considers virtual learning options for students.

The district will provide money for the district's Link and Learn internet program, a partnership with Love Our Schools and local providers to offer low-cost, open, wireless internet for qualifying families of Lafayette students.

The aim is to prepare families for virtual learning, which students will do at least half of the time as they start school in a blended model Aug. 17. They'll alternate days on campus and days of remote learning at home. Or students could choose a fully virtual option.

School closures this spring highlighted the technology gap faced by students across the state, as 35 parishes reported to the Louisiana Department of Education that more than 50% of their students do not have home internet access.

Lafayette Parish reported 80% of its students have home internet or can use a cellular hotspot. The system has purchased 3,700 devices this summer to bring the district to a one-to-one student-technology ratio and will have smart buses and Wi-Fi boosters on each school campus.

All of this comes at a cost, some of which will be covered by federal grant money through the CARES Act, including new allocations from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, and the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Incentive Fund, according to estimates in school board documents.

The board approved transferring money to assist in covering the costs of providing temporary internet access for a maximum of a year to qualifying students due to COVID-19 school attendance restrictions. This would help students who do not currently have the access required to complete online assignments.  

It will be a one-time transfer of up to $615,000 from the Capital Projects Reserve for 21/22 Projects to the district's General Fund, added to $885,000 in federal grant money to provide a maximum of $1.5 million available.

Families are encouraged to purchase the low-cost internet themselves, but this will allow the district to completely cover costs for about 5,000 homes or 7,000 students over the next 60 days, said Ryan Domengeaux, CEO of of the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation and leader in the Love Our Schools initiative.

"This addresses the digital divide we talk about, the opportunities students are missing out on," Domengeaux said Tuesday at the board meeting.

Julia Reed, president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators and local teacher, urged the board to invest in this work, hoping that it would prompt other districts t

"The digital divide is real and affects our most vulnerable population," Reed said. "Lafayette Parish will be a leader in solving this very real problem."

He admitted this would be a short-term solution for families, as it would expire after a year. He said Love Our Schools is spearheading an effort with partners like Infolink to provide a long-term solution — a 4G/5G overlay network that would essentially extend the school district's wireless internet network.

The board allocated new CARES Act resources that the district recently received  — $429,047 from ESSERF and $823,406 from GEERF — as special revenue in its budget.

Money from the governor's emergency fund can go toward technology devices and internet connectivity. The elementary and secondary grant money can be used for:

  • additional materials or online access required for distance learning for the system’s approved Tier I curriculum
  • software licenses required for career and technical education and non-core curriculum for individual students
  • subscriptions to online course and content provides or CTE and non-core curriculum materials required to transition to virtual learning
  • work with one or more approved planning partners for individual graduation planning for students in grades 9-1 and/or college career transitions for graduated seniors
  • English learner supports required for distance learning for the school system’s approved Tier I curriculum
  • augmentative and alternative communication devices for students with disabilities
  • training on remote service delivery to students with disabilities from organizations with the Continuous Learning designation on the Partnerships for Success Guide
  • work with one or more approved professional learning partners in the Louisiana Department of Education's Profesional Development Vendor Guide
  • partner with an organization listed on the Maximizing Learning Time through Adaptive and Flexible Staffing Plans
  • 4-year-old seats to ensure the school system maintains the number of 4-year-old seats filled in the SY19-20 school year

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