Several school districts and charter schools throughout the Central Coast are set to receive $14.1 million in federal funding to help students connect to the internet.
The funding is part of the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program (ECF), which was included in the American Rescue Plan.
The ECF is a $7.17 billion program to help schools and libraries address connectivity issues that were highlighted during distance learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The program will cover reasonable costs of laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use.
Rep. Jimmy Panetta made the announcement on Monday morning.
“Although the pandemic highlighted the digital divide for many of our students locally, it allowed the federal government to step up and provide the funding necessary for kids to access the internet in many of our communities,” Panetta said in a press release. “This critical funding from the American Rescue Plan will help students on the Central Coast get and stay connected so they can get their work done.”
At $4.1 million, Pajaro Valley Unified School District received the largest share of the Central Coast’s allocation. Salinas City Elementary School District received just over $3 million, and Alisal Union Elementary School District was granted just over $2 million.
The Santa Cruz County Office of Education ($302,767.85) and Santa Cruz City School District ($1.6M) also received funding, so, too, did Ceiba College Preparatory Academy ($64,620), a charter school in Watsonville.
Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah said that the pandemic underscored the impacts of the digital divide, or the idea that low-income families frequently have less access to the internet.
“This Connectivity will also offer families a fundamental lifeline to address the social determinants of health,” Sabbah said.
The federal funding is part of an overarching effort by government agencies and school districts to help communities access the internet and make distance learning easier.
In February, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved using a $500,000 grant to install small cellular antennas throughout the county to boost the signals for people living in the rural parts of the county.