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More than 275K computers, Wi-Fi hotspots ordered for Houston-area students, records show

The technology and supplies needed were ordered under the state's "Operation Connectivity" program which is funded from the CARES Act.

HOUSTON — Houston-area school districts have placed orders for more than a quarter-million computer devices and Wi-Fi hotspots under the state’s “Operation Connectivity,” a KHOU 11 analysis of Texas Education Agency records has found.

The program is funded with $200 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and generally provides dollar-for-dollar matching funds to schools. Fifty Houston-area districts and charter schools requested 204,752 computer devices such as laptops and IPads, along with 70,765 hotspots. The bulk-order represents more than a quarter of all devices requested statewide.

Most will go to low-income students.

“Specifically the ones that are the most economically disadvantaged and are really having trouble and really need to connect to their teachers on a daily basis for virtual learning,” said Melody Parrish, the TEA’s deputy commissioner of technology.

In the greater Houston, area, Aldine ISD tops the technology needs list, with 52,100 devices and 10,000 hotspots ordered.

Houston ISD and Spring Branch ISD made the next largest requests in the area.

“Operation Connectivity helps tremendously,” said HISD Information Technology Chief Scott Gilhausen.

Gilhausen said 35 percent of the district’s students, about 60,000, don’t have a way to connect online. Younger kids have the greatest need.

“Where we lack some of the access connectivity or devices were in our middle and elementary schools, so we’re steadily closing that gap,” he said.

But ordering devices is one thing, and delivery is another. 

The TEA said COVID-19 has created a nationwide shortage, as the supply chain plays catch up during the pandemic.

“We are pushing as hard as we can on those vendors to deliver as soon as possible for our students,” Parrish said.

“At the very latest, I think we’re looking at October.”

Parish said the delivery schedule depends on the type of the device. For example, touchscreen Chromebooks for example, are extremely high in demand and generally are taking the longest to arrive.