State Assembly bill addresses digital divide in NJ as students prepare for remote learning

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 
Urban News Staff Reports

Concerns over the spread of the coronavirus promoted Gov. Phil Murphy to close all public, private, and parochial preschool programs, and elementary and secondary schools, including charter and renaissance schools in the Garden State. The closure is part of Murphy's measures for social distancing.

Students across New Jersey will participate in remote learning until schools open back up through the use of electronic devices and internet. However, many had to grapple with the harsh reality that not all students in the state had access to technology at home in order to complete their schoolwork.

To address the obstacles faced by students without computers or internet capabilities and bridge the "digital divide" in student access to technology, the State Assembly advanced a measure 59-3-3 this week to establish the “Bridging the Digital Divide in Schools Grant Program” in the Department of Education.

Under the bill, funds would be allocated to provide or expand access to laptops, tablets, hot spot devices and other technology for students to use in both a school setting or at home.

Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington), Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), sponsors of the bill, issued the following joint statement:

“We need to ensure every child has access to the tools their peers have to make way for equitable learning opportunities and outcomes. In a time when schools are moving to distance learning due to COVID-19, the inequities in technology access and associated challenges have become even more pronounced.

“It is estimated that roughly 12 percent of New Jersey’s 3.2 million households are without a computer and that 18 percent don’t have high-speed internet access. This bill would help ensure no student or schools falls on the wrong side of the digital divide whether we’re in a state of emergency or not.”

The bill is part of the Assembly’s package of legislation in response to coronavirus. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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