HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont announced that his administration is launching the Everybody Learns initiative, a $43.5 million investment in remote learning solutions to close the digital divide in Connecticut and empower students across the state to learn from home, especially as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues impacting the country.

The governor said that the funding, which comes from the state’s portion of the federal CARES Act, the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, will be used to purchase 50,000 laptops for students, 12 months of access to at-home internet for 60,000 students, create public hotspots free to the public at 200 community sites across the state and offer social emotional learning content to school districts statewide.

“There are few responsibilities more important to me as governor than ensuring all students in Connecticut receive a high-quality, world-class education,” Gov. Lamont said. “In 2020, it is paramount that every Connecticut student has access to high-speed internet, quality digital learning content and a reliable and effective learning device.

“Too often, students of color and those in low-income communities are disproportionately disadvantaged by not having access to the learning technologies they need. Today I am taking measures to close this inequitable digital divide and ensure all of our students are set up for success with remote learning.”

The number of students identified as in need of access to laptops and at-home internet is based on survey information that was submitted to the state Department of Education and state Commission for Educational Technology.

The state will purchase the at-home internet access through several broadband internet companies, including Altice USA/Optimum, Atlantic Broadband, Comcast, Cox and Charter. The personal hotspots will be covered by cellular signal through the student hotspot provider Kajeet.

The Office of the Governor, state Department of Education, Department of Administrative Services, Office of Policy and Management and the state Commission for Educational Technology will coordinate with internet companies and school districts to ensure students receive the learning devices as quickly as possible, and the form of internet coverage that meets their needs and empowers them to participate in high-quality remote learning.

Likewise, internet providers have agreed to work closely with the administration and school IT directors to support households that have students who will be learning this fall.

“In order to support remote learning needs for our learners, we need to make sure they are connected,” Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said. “Addressing the digital divide has become our priority since a device and connection are no longer luxuries. Once connected, they must also have access to high quality content to promote learning and social emotional development. Under the leadership of Gov. Lamont, our commitment remains focused on amplifying social emotional supports for students and educators, and advancing equitable access to high-quality, high-impact, student-centered remote learning anytime, anywhere.”

The state Department of Education has made social and emotional well-being and mental health supports a priority, given its relationship to improving conditions for learning and ultimately improving students’ school and life outcomes.

During the long period of class cancellation, the need for quality social, emotional and mental health supports for students and educators has been intensified by pandemic related trauma, anxiety and distance from the relationships formed at school.

Putting a strong program of social and emotional learning (SEL) and mental health supports in place can ease the transition and mitigate issues that may otherwise occur. The department will devote CARES Act funding to supplement the development of a statewide SEL framework that will support educator professional learning and implementation of evidenced-based programs.

In addition, the department will provide professional learning through RESCs and SERC to support educators in providing social and emotional supports; provide resources to districts for delivery of general behavioral and mental health screening; and promote implementation of universal SEL curriculum/programming at the district level and secure resources for outreach or professional learning on Equity, Implicit Bias and Inclusion.

The 200 hotspots will be open to the public at no cost to the user. The state will partner with the Connecticut Education Network to utilize the fiber and infrastructure it already provides to sites in communities across the state and boost signals for the public at large to be able to access for free.

Districts will receive communication from the state about the process by which they will receive their laptops, broadband vouchers or Kajeet hotspots. Community sites will soon receive communication from CEN about hotspots.

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