Governor Bill Lee’s new grant program to fund school connectivity could be a help in the Putnam County Schools.
Lee announced a $15 million program Thursday to help districts purchase wi-fi or mi-fi devices for students. Putnam County Director of Schools Corby King said those expenses can add up quickly.
“We provided about five hundred and fifty hot spots to students who did not have connectivity,” King said. “That’s something that you can’t sustain long term, not financially. We were able to do that for a brief period through contracts. We have began those again this fall for some students who were choosing that don’t have access.”
Most school systems across the Upper Cumberland have expressed concerns about connectivity since the pandemic began. Even with the expansion of broadband access across the region, many rural residents do not have the speed required for remote learning and other such connectivity.
King said that’s true in the more urban Putnam County.
“Once you get out into some of the reaches of Putnam County and Baxter or Monterey, or the northern end up north of Algood, there are areas that we just don’t have good Internet coverage,” King said. “And that’s a huge need for us.”
Systems that receive grants would be reimbursed for their purchases, according to Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn. Systems must identify the number of households without internet access and a viable, local solution to meet connectivity needs.
The grant will fund districts at $150 per identified household need for the fall semester, up to $15 million statewide. School systems would need to fund the program for the spring.