Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Friday announced a new $100 million program designed to enhance internet access for low-income students during the coronavirus pandemic.
The funding for the program, which is being called Alabama Broadband Connectivity, comes from the $1.9 billion the state received as part of the federal government’s CARES Act that was passed in March with the intention of mitigating the economic effects of the coronavirus.
The new program comes as many of Alabama’s public school students will begin the school year online amid the ongoing pandemic.
“This funding will expand internet access to allow more students to access distance learning while creating smaller classes in schools,” Ivey said in a statement on Friday.
According to a release from the governor’s office, the program “will provide vouchers for families of students currently eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, or other income criteria.”
“The vouchers will help cover equipment and service costs for high-speed internet service from the fall through Dec. 31, 2020. Providers will contract with the state to provide the service using existing lines and technologies,” the office added.
Types of equipment and service provided for by the vouchers could include “equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, DSL, and cellular-on-wheels.”
Families eligible with students who qualify for free lunch will receive a letter in August informing them about the program.
The grants will be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), which has created a partnership with CTC Technology & Energy for the program.
“I am pleased that Alabama is going to enter into this private-public partnership to make internet access available to those low-income households who cannot currently afford it,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said in a statement released by Ivey’s office.
“Economic status should not be a determining factor in receiving quality education, and it should not bar anyone from the ability to access vital online services,” he added.
The governor further reiterated on Friday her hesitation for students to attend school outside of the classroom, saying, “I fear that a slide will come by keeping our kids at home. These funds will bridge the gap until all students can get back into the classroom as soon as possible.”
Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey recently estimated 40%-50% of Alabama’s public school students will begin the school year virtually.
A website with more information on the Alabama Broadband Connectivity effort can be accessed here.