Fairfax County Public Schools, public library to get federal funds for remote learning

Student working on computer (via Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax County Public Library are recipients of federal funding to help provide internet access and necessary devices for students, school staff and library patrons.

Announced on Tuesday (Oct. 26) by Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, the funding comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to help close the “homework gap” for students who lack internet access.

The county’s library system will receive $41,330 and the school district will receive $17.9 million from the $7.17 billion program, which gives nearly $50 million to Virginia overall. The program was created by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was authorized by Congress earlier this year.

“We’re proud to see these federal dollars go toward keeping Virginia’s communities connected,” Warner and Kaine said in their joint statement. “This investment will help close the digital divide, while improving access to job opportunities and educational resources for Virginians as we continue to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.”

The funding is intended to help public schools and libraries support remote learning by reimbursing them with up to $400 for each laptop or tablet and $250 for Wi-Fi hotspots, a spokesperson for Kaine told FFXnow.

Other eligible equipment covered by this funding include modems, routers, and devices that combine routers and modems.

Schools and libraries may purchase more expensive devices or Wi-Fi hotspots with their program funds, but they will only be reimbursed for the aforementioned amounts.

Recipients can also use the funding to provide commercially available broadband service with a fixed or mobile connection off-campus for students, school staff, or library patrons. The administrating company for the program, Universal Service Administrative Company, will review costs and applications for other eligible equipment and services.

Funding has been issued in three waves since late September, with the latest round getting distributed this week. However, the schools and libraries ultimately control the timeline for carrying out purchase agreements with internet providers and vendors.

An FCPS spokesperson deferred comment to state officials because the program is in its early stages.

“The school system is correct that this is very early stages,” Fairfax County Public Library told FFXnow when contacted for comment.

While broadband access is less of an issue in Fairfax County than in other parts of the state and country, 4% of households still have no internet, county staff reported in June. Access is uneven across the county, ranging from 1.4% of households lacking internet in Springfield District to 8.9% of households in Mason District.

Even with FCPS back to five days of in-person learning, internet access remains critical for students, particularly with some having to stay out of class due to COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantining procedures.

Since Sept. 1, FCPS has quarantined 3,942 students because they were identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school system’s quarantine data dashboard. That does not include students who have had to pause in-person learning for contact-tracing purposes.

Photo via Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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