Chandler is sending $250,000 to the local school district to purchase mobile hot spots for 1,000 students without reliable internet access.
The Chandler Unified School District opened the school year with remote learning on Aug. 5. Like many schools across the country, returning to campus will depend on meeting public health guidelines in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district with more than 40,000 students across Chandler and parts of Queen Creek and Gilbert has found many families need help in making remote learning happen, whether through use of a laptop or Wi-Fi connections.
Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.
The district has provided more than 5,000 laptops to students and staff and now is working to get families connected to the internet, district spokesman Terry Locke said.
The city assistance comes from a portion of the nearly $30 million in coronavirus relief aid it received. The city also has set up a grant program to help small businesses struggling during the health crisis.
District officials said the financial assistance is critical as CUSD faces budget cuts, while seeing an increase in costs related to the pandemic.
“The increased demand for technology and internet access for students and staff is a big part of those costs,” Locke said.
Hot spots should start arriving this week
Many students have been unable to access online courses because of a lack of internet connection, Lana Berry, the district’s chief financial officer, told the Chandler City Council on Aug. 13.
The district has already ordered 800 hot spots, and they’re expected to arrive this week, Superintendent Camille Casteel said. The district now will order 200 more.
The hot spots are free, but the $250,000 will cover the monthly service fee for all 1,000 hot spots for the school year. The devices come with added protection to ensure students can’t access offensive content, similar to when they’re using computers on campus, Casteel said.
As the district works to get the technology to families, Chandler has opened city libraries to students so they can access computers.
District takes hit to budget
The financial assistance from the city comes at a time when school districts’ financial stability is influx.
Barry said the district is projecting a $20 million revenue loss related to enrollment drops and other hits to the district’s Maintenance and Operation budget and an additional $3.8 million from the loss of food service, day care and activity fees.
School funding is largely based on the number of students served. Chandler Unified had been growing for years and was expected to gain about 100 more students this school year, she said. Instead, enrollment has dipped by about 1,500 students during the pandemic.
The district received about $12 million from the state to help offset the lost enrollment revenue and $3 million in federal aid. The federal aid was used to purchase laptops for students and staff.
The aid, however, doesn’t make the district whole, and it doesn’t cover about $12.9 million in new expenses that were unaccounted for in the budget, Barry said.
The district has had to hire additional staff to help with online courses, develop a platform to train staff for virtual instruction and purchase personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.
Berry said the district has dipped into its reserves and is looking for grants and other funding to help prop up its budget.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Chandler gives $250K to help school district get lower-income students connected to the internet