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Program to provide online devices, access to children in Harris County wins approval

A recent study found one in four Texas students do not have devices at home for remote learning, and one in three lack internet access.

HOUSTON — As schools in Houston and Harris County firm up reopening plans, many parents are worried their children will be victims of the digital divide.

Low-income families often can't afford high-speed internet access and devices needed for online learning, leaving thousands of students without a way to begin school during the pandemic.

The Digital Access Program, approved by Harris County commissioners Tuesday, will use $32 million in CARES Act funding to provide 82,000 WiFi hotspots and 211,000 devices for Harris County children.

Harris County is teaming up with the Texas Education Agency by providing $19 million to "Operation Connectivity" for the online devices.

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The other $13 million will go toward “Project 10 Million,” a public-private partnership program launched by T-Mobile that will provide 39,000 hot spots for students in under-resourced communities in Harris County.

“Educational outcomes were already highly unequal before COVID-19,” said Commissioner Rodney Ellis, “As instruction moves online, we need to make sure that no child is left behind in their education, particularly those in low-income and communities of color."

A recent study by the nonprofit group, Common Sense, found that one in four Texas students do not have devices at home for distance learning, and one in three lack adequate access to the internet. 

Two thirds of those students are Black, Latino or Native American.

Some families gave up in frustration. KHOU 11 Investigates surveyed 15 districts and found 8% of kids (56,996) did not complete assignments and were considered “not engaged” at the end of last school year.

Complete details of the program and how residents can apply will be released soon.