GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX/KFQX)- Colorado lawmakers are making it a point to reach across the aisle to help school districts across the state provide internet to students and families who lack service. This comes as COVID-19 continues to raise an uncertain future for schools everywhere, prompting remote or hybrid learning.
On Wednesday the Colorado State Senate moved swiftly in the General Assembly’s special session, unanimously passing several house bills at once: including emergency funding for child care, food pantry assistance, and broadband expansion for students and families in Colorado schools.
The bills were sent back to the House for approval of Senate amendments Wednesday afternoon and now head to Governor Jared Polis’ Desk.
House Bill 1001, co-sponsored by Matt Soper, a Western Slope Republican representative, provides $20 million in funding to Colorado’s Department of Education to create grants so school districts can apply to pay for resources to help students and families who need internet access.
School District 51 in Mesa County has already received 1200 mobile WiFi hotspots through a state partnership program with T-Mobile, and another 1300 are on the way. A D51 spokesperson says supply is meeting demand, and students can ask for a hotspot at school if they don’t have internet at home. D51’s director of technology services says, while the mobile hotspots help, and more broadband grants in the future will be a good thing, cellular signal in the valley needs improvement. He says this is because effective broadband access for students will likely be through more cellular hotspots.
“The way we’ll see it here is going to be through cellular,” said Technology Services Director Dan Burke. “I hope that some of the cellular companies beef up or strengthen their networks around here to help us.”
Burke says, COVID-19 forcing a switch to online and hybrid learning has made his job more complex.
“I think our job has changed in the fact that we really got to make sure we’re reaching the students for training and their parents,” he said. “We’re troubleshooting a lot of things that are off home networks, like off of a home router, and so when we’re trying to troubleshoot it, it makes it really hard for us to be able to help students on home networks that we’re not familiar with.”
Burke adds he will apply for any future broadband grants made available. This current round of legislation will likely make grant funding available for broadband in schools in early 2021.