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Almost 15 percent of Idaho students lack access to broadband, SDE survey says

Education

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BOISE — Almost 15 percent of public school students across 90 districts do not have access to reliable broadband, according to an Idaho Education News analysis of a new survey from the State Department of Education.

A separate question on the same survey found that about 12 percent of students in responding districts don’t have access to a device that can deliver educational content.

During two public meetings last month, a State Board of Education meeting and a May 5 national education webinar sponsored by The Hunt Institute, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said about 30 percent of Idaho students don’t have reliable access to broadband or a device.

The data, and overall connectivity issues, are important because Ybarra cited them during public meetings as the State Board weighs how to spend Idaho’s share of federal coronavirus stimulus funds and sets policy for the future of education amid the pandemic.

Administrators from 90 of Idaho’s approximately 166 school districts and public charter schools responded to the survey. Enrollment at the 90 districts and charters that responded totals 204,235 students out of a statewide enrollment of about 312,000. That’s about two-thirds of the state’s public school students.

Idaho EdNews obtained the survey questions, individual responses and an SDE executive summary and analysis of the data last month via a request made under Idaho’s public records law.

Based on the data and the SDE analysis, it wasn’t clear whether there was overlap between the students who lack broadband and the students who lack devices.

Idaho EdNews asked the SDE whether there was duplication between the responses and requested an interview with an SDE official to discuss the survey results and methodology.

“The surveys were not meant to be scientific but to get a general sense of what Idaho district and charters need…,” SDE spokeswoman Kris Rodine wrote in an email last week.

“Whether it’s 15, 20, 30 percent or more, there is a gap in technology resources that puts some students at a disadvantage in a distance learning environment,” Rodine wrote.

Although Ybarra submitted the data to the State Board, the surveys will not be the only information State Board members consider before making decisions about purchasing devices or online learning management systems. State Board staff members have also put a survey in the field asking local school leaders about connectivity and learning management systems. State Board officials are working on compiling the results this week, spokesman Mike Keckler said.

Idaho EdNews also found that Ybarra submitted incomplete survey data to the State Board in May. Along with a May 20 letter explaining the survey, Ybarra submitted 66, not 90, responses to the State Board. She also submitted 24 duplicative responses. SDE staff said that was due to converting the responses to PDF form.

After Idaho EdNews pointed out the data appeared incomplete, Rodine said Ybarra would provide updated information to the State Board at Monday’s special meeting. However, Ybarra did not provide any update during the meeting Monday.

More information: To look at responses from your local school district, click around on the map of Idaho embedded in this article.

Idaho EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader and reporter Sami Edge contributed to this report.

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on June 1, 2020

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