The East Allen County Schools, Southwest Allen County Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools districts are receiving roughly $400,000 in state grant money to provide connectivity to students attending school remotely while not having access to broadband internet. The money will aid in the purchase of hotspot hardware for students based on individual needs within each school.
The funding will come from the $61.6 million Gov. Eric Holcomb has allocated for the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund created by the CARES Act. Grants are available to school districts to increase learning gaps among students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an application focus on developing and improving the availability of distance learning techniques and technologies, as several students across the state chose to attend school remotely this year.
Fort Wayne Community Schools applied for a grant separately, while the other three school districts in Allen County joined forces, distributing the funds based on the number of devices needed within each school.
“We thought we would have a better shot at getting funding by pooling our resources together,” NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said.
“We went and counted, based on reports from the parents during enrollment, to find out exactly how many people were in need. … The rural areas in east Allen County had larger numbers of people without a device.”
EACS will receive roughly $278,000 of the $400,000 total, the district’s public information officer, Tamyra Kelly, said.
More than 40 school districts in Indiana are offering remote-only classes to give families a means of protecting themselves against COVID-19. However, a study released by Ball State University in July found that between 68,649 and 84,118 school-age children do not have internet access at home, which has created a learning gap between those students and their peers with internet access.
According to 2018 data released by the United States Census Bureau, more than 19% of households within the attendance area of an Allen County school district do not have internet. Within EACS, 25.6% of households do not have internet — compared to 20.9% in FWCS, 9.1% in NACS and 8.7% in SACS.
During an Aug. 31 meeting of the NACS Board of School Trustees, Himsel noted that those numbers will hopefully decline over time with the help of the Allen County Broadband Access Team, which was organized by Himsel and Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters. That board met for the first time in February, just weeks before school buildings closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Members continue to discuss the current broadband status in Allen County, broadband needs for the next 10 years, and broadband network costs and sources of funding.