Navigating CARES Funding for Educational Technology

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Keeping students learning and safe in the midst of a pandemic doesn’t come cheap. Alabama has allocated $100 million for a public-private partnership to increase internet access for K-12 students who may need internet service for distance learning. Tennessee has provided $50 million to support technology grants for Wi-Fi devices, laptops, or any other devices required to support reopening. To protect the health and safety of students, Dearborn Schools spent almost $40,000 deep cleaning a single elementary school where a staffer tested positive for COVID-19, reports the Detroit Free Press.

To cover the costs to overcome barriers created by the pandemic, schools across the U.S. have started to tap into the funding set aside by the federal government in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, in several states, CARES funds are being used to make up for state cuts in education due to tax revenue loss. Schools are now facing a funding crisis with significant budget shortfalls exacerbated by increased pandemic-related costs. Because 15% - 25% budget shortfalls are expected for districts in 2020-21, it’s more critical than ever to make strategic funding decisions and find innovative ways to get more out of stretched budgets. 

What is ESSER?

The CARES Act created the $30.75 billion Education Stabilization fund for State educational agencies (SEAs) to spend on education and education technology. Of which $13.5 billion went to The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds to provide local educational agencies (LEAs), including charter schools that are LEAs, with emergency relief to address the impact that COVID-19 has had and continues to have on schools across the nation. According to FutureEd, “Another $3 billion goes to the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), which governors can use for ‘significantly impacted’ school districts or higher education institutions.”

The deadline for LEAs to apply for funds is dependent on your state. Note that SEAs can use ESSER funds for allowable expenditures incurred on or after March 13, 2020. Reach out to the federal programs officer in your district to discuss your school’s specific funding allotment. Communication is key to the strategic procurement of edTech solutions.

Leveraging ESSER Allocations to Support Students

District administrators across the country, like Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, are preparing for options to bridge the digital divide. “Recognizing the significant learning loss that has resulted from the pandemic, it will be important that districts leverage their ESSER allocations to support students in regaining lost academic ground,” Hofmeister said.

The law allows districts to spend CARES Act ESSER funds on a broad range of activities, as long as they fall within the dozen allowable uses related to COVID-19. As school districts continue to determine the best way to spend their money, many are focusing on these two allowable uses:

  • Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency, including buildings operated by such agency.
  • Purchasing CARES Act specific educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students who are served by the local educational agency that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors.

How Innovative LocknCharge Solutions Can Help

LocknCharge solutions help in two areas of activity that are eligible for ESSER funds and emergency education grants, distance learning technology and sanitizing equipment.

Distance Learning: Funds can be used to cover technology costs related to distance/remote learning.

Automate device management for break/fix programs: From cracked screens to malfunctioning cameras, device damage is common. Retrieving those broken devices and providing replacements quickly and safely is a challenge all school IT teams face whether learning is remote or in-person. The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) faced this break/fix obstacle head-on earlier this year. Previously, each time device support was needed, a team member had to be physically onsite. Triaging the issue would gobble up a minimum of 15 minutes from the Help Desk’s schedule–not to mention the growing wait time for a tech person to become available.

SFUSD strategically placed four LocknCharge FUYL Tower Smart Lockers at a central location where they could be accessed beyond regular office hours and even on weekends. Each bay is equipped with one ready-to-go device, simplifying the process of distributing and maintaining devices without the need for any face-to-face interaction or Help Desk interruption. Device deployment was shortened from as many as five days to as little as one day for an 80% reduction in device downtime.

Zero human interaction device management: Managing the distribution of mobile devices without human interaction is a new requirement as part of social distancing. LocknCharge can help facilitate a zero-touch model for deploying and maintaining mobile devices for your students and faculty, ensuring continual access to a ready-to-go device. One way to eliminate in-person contact is to set up pickup/drop-off IT exchange hubs with secure smart lockers. With our robust online management portal for FUYL Tower, IT Admins can manage smart lockers remotely. Teachers, students and parents place devices in a compartment at a scheduled time; staff then tracks the activity to see when the compartment was accessed, reset PINs, open doors or quarantine doors.

Whether the students in your district are learning online, in-person or a combination of both, learn how to best navigate educational technology for each option.

Save Time and Money with Future-Proof Technology Solutions

Despite the ESSER allocations, limited resources will likely challenge every school for many years to come. So it may seem logical to evaluate technology based on price alone. However, by thinking bigger upfront and investing for years to come, you can save significant time and money in the long run.

Your chosen products must combine universal charging, open-concept designs and durability, to implement a future-proof charging program successfully. If the product claims to flex with your tech plans but isn’t durable enough to last, you will fall short of your goals. On the flip side, if a charging solution is so durable that it lasts a lifetime but no longer suits your needs, that product cannot be part of your long-term strategy.

Ready to Learn More?

As your partner, we’re standing by to help you navigate ESSER funding for educational technology and sanitization and ensure your investment will be a good one for many years to come. Schedule a live video demo with a LocknCharge Customer Success Manager to see our products in action and find the right solution for managing your mobile devices.

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7 Ways Schools Bridge the Distance Learning Digital Divide


Schools have handed out millions of devices since the beginning of the pandemic. But devices are only one side of the remote learning equation. Even if they’re given a learning device, many students still face barriers to connectivity. Unicef reports that worldwide, at least 463 million students have no access to digital or broadcast lessons. Innovative educators and community partners are hard at work to improve that statistic and ensure no child misses out on learning. From Wi-Fi-enabled school buses in California to SIM-enabled internet dongles in Victoria, check out these seven strategies schools have implemented to bridge the distance learning digital divide.

1. School Bus Wi-Fi Helps Students Get to Class

For several years now, districts have been equipping school buses with Wi-Fi so students can complete online assignments while traveling to and from school. Why let the vital internet access provided by these portable hotspots go to waste during school closures? Districts are now re-purposing their Wi-Fi buses to help students “get to class” in places where connectivity is an issue. Buses park where internet connections are needed most, such as local neighborhoods and community center parking lots.

Read how Coachella Valley Unified School District in California has been providing connectivity in this way to the district’s most underserved communities, long before the transition to remote learning.

2. Tech Team Cranks it Up to Boost School Wi-Fi

When schools across the Charleston County School District closed in April, the tech team sprang into action to help the roughly 4,000 kids without internet at home. Thomas Nawrocki, executive director of IT, explains to U.S. News how to boost connectivity with existing infrastructure. “Nawrocki and his team cranked the WiFi output signal inside schools so that those living in close proximity can use it, and also so that people can drive or bike to the school parking lots and tap into it there. The district also has 10 schools with powerful antennas that are helping provide access to the internet to neighborhoods in the immediate area.”

Other schools use their closed campuses to get devices in teachers' and students' hands safely. By rolling a FUYL Tower out to a publicly-accessible location on a school site or district office, devices can be left securely in a designated locker, ready for no-contact pickup during a scheduled time. These locations can even be a covered area outdoors, so no building access is necessary.

3. Companies Provide Take-home Hotspots for Greater Equity for Students

Take-home hotspots are a popular solution because they don’t require installation and help close the connectivity gap to give students the technology to succeed. Thanks to generous donations from companies and philanthropies, hundreds of thousands have been distributed to kids in recent months. In Washington, Northshore School District was one of the first to switch to what they call “classroom in the cloud.” EdSurge reports that “before putting its emergency instruction on hold, Northshore had already distributed 4,000 devices and around 600 mobile hotspots to families.”

Partnering with school districts across the country, T-Mobile has launched a program to deliver internet connectivity to millions of underserved student households at no cost to them. Interested schools or school districts can fill out a program request form.

4. An Unexpected Tool for Remote Learning—Public Television

Public TV and radio have emerged as unexpected remote learning tools to prevent the education gap from getting wider. According to UNICEF, TV-based remote learning has the potential to reach the majority of students globally. World Bank’s Edtech team documented initiatives in Austria, where the public T.V. station ORF 1 has offered a special education program for students at all school levels. Similarly, Spanish public television, RTVE, launched an educational tool for students and families called Educlan. In Mexico, the government has “planned to have 640 programs, across 18 radio stations in 15 states of the country.”

5. “Lift Zones” Provide Safe Spaces for Low-Income Students

Working with a network of nonprofit partners, Comcast is launching more than 1,000 WiFi-connected “Lift Zones” in community centers throughout the U.S. to provide safe spaces for low-income students to participate in distance learning. “The initiative will provide not only free Internet connectivity, but also access to hundreds of hours of educational and digital skills content to help families and site coordinators navigate online learning.”

Distance learning is impossible without access to power. Deploying LocknCharge FUYL Towers in community centers is a creative way to provide secure charging for students facing housing insecurity. When an IT team member assigns individual FUYL Tower slots to students, the district can be assured that the students have a designated place to keep their devices safe and secure while charging.  

6. 4G Wireless Routers Distributed to Children Facing Disruption to Face-to-Face Education

When schools closed during the initial lockdown in England, the Department of Education realized it was essential to recognize how many families lack up-to-date computers and struggle to pay for broadband. “Being able to keep up with classes should not depend on broadband status,” said one educational expert to the BBC. To date, over 100,000 laptops and tablets have been delivered and 51,000 4G routers to secondary school pupils with a social worker as well as disadvantaged students.

7. Internet Dongles Prevent Students from Falling Behind

Internet dongles use a SIM card to generate a portable WiFi network. Because they’re small, easy to use and affordable, it’s understandable that they’re a popular choice to try to ensure equal access to online learning. “Only 68% of Australian children aged 5 to 14 living in disadvantaged communities have internet access at home, compared to 91% of students living in advantaged communities,” reports The Conversation. To prevent students in bushfire affected areas and families who can’t afford an internet connection from falling behind, Australia’s Victorian government has distributed thousands of Telstra internet dongles.

The only certainty about the future of education is that it’s uncertain. The trick is to be ready for whatever scenario comes your way—including developing an EdTech plan that empowers students and teachers to focus on the task of learning. Learn how best to navigate educational technology in an ever-changing landscape.

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