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Want a state grant to offset online learning costs? Stay tuned

Education

BOISE (IdahoEdNews.org) — Within a couple of weeks, the state could launch a $50 million grant program to help families cover the costs of K-12 digital learning.

And based on what State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield is hearing, the money could be in high demand.

The state hopes to get the Strong Families, Strong Students money into the hands of tens of thousands of households, with grants that max out at $1,500 per student or $3,500 per family.

Parents can use the money to cover the costs of computers, internet connections or online educational services.

The program has been in the works since mid-September, when Gov. Brad Little announced his plan to put $50 million of federal coronavirus stimulus money into grants for families.

The State Board hopes to have the grant program online by about Oct. 21, spokesman Mike Keckler said this week.

The heart of the program will be a platform that will allow families to submit claims, and a virtual wallet that will allow families to withdraw their share of grant money. The board is working on a contract with ClassWallet, a Miami-based vendor that is managing a similar program in Oklahoma.

Parents cannot submit claims yet, but they can get a jump on the process by gathering the necessary paperwork, Keckler said:

  • A 1040 form, which is needed for proof of income.
  • Proof of state residency.
  • Proof of their child’s enrollment in a public or private school. (Homeschool families can apply for the grants, if a parent has lost work to the pandemic.)

Critchfield — who works for the Cassia County School District — says she’s already heard several case studies that point to the need for the grants.

One mother said she wants to get a laptop for her child, who can’t do classwork on a school-issued Chromebook, because it won’t access the necessary websites.

One teacher said her coronavirus-negative students are struggling while they are in self-isolation. They can’t keep up with their courses because they can’t download class materials at home.

One woman said her granddaughter has been coming over to do homework, because she can’t get assignments done at home. She had been trying to get online at a hotspot in the school parking lot, using a smartphone to work on assignments.

The three unsolicited anecdotes all tell a similar story, Critchfield said. The much-discussed “digital divide” is real, and parents need help bridging it.

“This is exactly what this program was designed to do,” she said.

This story was originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on October 8, 2020.

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