Governor Greg Abbott today announced a $420 million reimbursement program to cover costs incurred by Texas public schools that purchased Wi-Fi hotspots and/or eLearning devices (such as laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks) so students could learn remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program, jointly administered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) using federal CARES Act dollars, will reimburse districts for costs incurred since the 2019-20 school year if the district locally purchased eLearning devices and/or WiFi hotspots.
This reimbursement program builds on the progress made by Operation Connectivity, announced by Governor Abbott in May as an initiative to close the digital divide in Texas.
"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," said Governor Abbott. "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."
TDEM has already reimbursed school systems that purchased technology as a response to the pandemic during the final months of the 2019-20 school year. Additionally, TEA directly purchased roughly 1 million eLearning devices and WiFi hotspots in the summer, distributing that technology directly to Texas schools.
Since the start of Operation Connectivity, schools in Texas have acquired more than 2 million eLearning devices (such as laptops, tablets, Chromebooks) and more than 800,000 WiFi hotspots — totaling 2.8 million devices and hotspots combined and counting.
Devices have been directly purchased by the state, purchased by school systems, generously donated by corporate partners, and in some cases, procured with the help of city and county governments leveraging federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dollars.
With this program, the State of Texas has allocated more than $780 million in CARES Act funding for public education to assist local education agencies in connectivity purchases and reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses.
TEA has negotiated directly with suppliers, using the purchasing power of the state to drive down prices for devices an average of 30 percent.
Given the number of eLearning devices purchased, Texas has largely closed the digital divide with regard to students who required eLearning devices at home. Major progress has also been made to ensure all students have high-speed Internet access at home.
School systems across Texas may apply for these reimbursement funds beginning Friday, November 20. TEA will be holding a webinar that day, during which time details of the application process will be provided to participants.