Senator M. TERESA RUIZ
District 29 (Essex)
Senator NICHOLAS P. SCUTARI
District 22 (Middlesex, Somerset and Union)
Senator SHIRLEY K. TURNER
District 15 (Hunterdon and Mercer)
Requires DOE to provide funds to school districts for acquisition of technology devices to address digital divide and requires districts to reimburse DOE from available federal funds.
CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT
An Act concerning the accessibility of technology for remote learning by public school students.
Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. The Legislature finds and declares that:
a. On March 16, 2020, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order 104 which closed all K-12 school buildings beginning on March 18, 2020, as part of the State’s mitigation strategy to combat COVID-19 and reduce the rate of community spread. The Governor on May 4, 2020 announced that the school buildings would remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
b. Although school buildings were closed, school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools continued to be responsible for the provision of high quality, standards-based instruction to their students by means of virtual or remote instruction.
c. While schools are required to provide equitable access to instruction for all students, the reliance on virtual and remote instruction during the COVID-19 school closures has limited the ability of certain students to receive the same level of education services as their classmates, due to inadequate access to technology.
d. As part of the effort during the school closures to ensure the continuity of critical school services, such as remote instruction, school health-related closure plans were required to be developed on the local level. These plans, in part, require school districts to account for measuring and addressing any ongoing digital divide which exists in the district. The Department of Education has also undertaken surveys to understand the extent of the problem and the number of students in the State that are continuing to experience barriers to virtual and remote learning. According to the department, there are approximately 89,000 students who are still without access to virtual and remote learning.
e. Despite efforts at the local and State levels, the digital divide, which was evident at the outset when schools first closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to be a significant issue that threatens to increase the educational disparities experienced by low-income students.
f. It is imperative that the State immediately provide the funding necessary for the acquisition by school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools of the technology necessary to ensure that each enrolled student has the tools necessary to participate in the virtual classroom experience.
g. The federal government is making federal funds available under the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (CARES Act), Pub.L. 116-136, through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) to address the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on schools.
h. School districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools that are allocated funds under the CARES Act may use those funds for items to bridge the digital divide. The funds received under the CARES Act, or any other federal assistance available to address the impact of COVID-19 on K-12 schools, are expected to be used to offset any State funds provided for this purpose.
2. a. Within 30 days of the effective date of P.L. , c. (pending before the Legislature as this bill), the commissioner shall distribute to a school district, charter school, or renaissance school the amount of funds necessary for the acquisition by the school district, charter school, or renaissance school of a connected device for each enrolled student who does not have access to a connected device.
b. A school district, charter school, or renaissance school shall reimburse the Department of Education for funding received pursuant to subsection a. of this section from any funds received by the school district, charter school, or renaissance school under the federal “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” Pub.L. 116-136, or any other federal assistance available to address the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools, within the limit of federal funds provided and to the extent permitted by law.
c. As used in this section, “connected device” means a laptop computer, tablet computer, or similar device that is capable of connecting to broadband Internet access service, either by receiving such service directly or through the use of Wi-Fi.
3. This act shall take effect immediately.
This bill requires the Commissioner of Education to distribute to school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools, within 30 days of the bill’s effective date, the amount of funding necessary for the acquisition of connected devices for all enrolled students who do not have access to such devices. The bill defines a “connected device” as a laptop computer, tablet computer, or similar device that is capable of connecting to broadband Internet access service, either by receiving such service directly or through the use of Wi-Fi.
The bill includes a provision requiring a school district, charter school, or renaissance school that receives funding under the bill’s provisions to reimburse the Department of Education for that funding from any moneys received under the federal “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” Pub.L. 116-136, or any other federal assistance available to address the impact of COVID-19 on schools. This bill is intended to address the barriers to remote learning that many students are experiencing, so that all students may fully participate in the virtual classroom experience.