SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah State Board of Education has added $1 million to extend a competitive grant program intended to connect more households to the internet as more students are learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
The board voted Thursday to add funding from its state coronavirus relief funds to extend the grant program, bringing broadband access or hotspots to families with K-12 students, KSL-TV reported.
Board Director of Strategic Initiatives Sarah Young said the funding would supplement $5 million previously allocated to the agency by the Utah Education and Telehealth Network, increasing available funds to $6 million for the 2020-2021 school year.
Competitive grants would reimburse school districts or charter schools for costs associated with bringing internet access “to the household level,” Young said.
“That’s going to look different depending on the community. Some of them are looking at marrying with their local provider to provide internet to the home in partnership with the Lifeline program,” Young said, adding that Lifeline is a federal program that lowers the monthly cost of phone and internet service.
The grants are intended to address concerns about educational equity as the state’s schools have shifted to remote learning to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The board also approved spending $75,000 for an external evaluation of the K-12 broadband or hotspot grant program. Some board members questioned why the board would need to hire an external group to evaluate.
“I would hope that we could just ask the LEAs (local education agencies) who are receiving funds to report on the effectiveness of their usage. I don’t see a need to hire someone,” board member Scott Hansen said.