Tens of thousands of students went without computers in the fall even as gap narrowed



Around 8 percent of public school students statewide did not have access to a computer device and 6 percent did not have adequate internet access this fall, according to a survey of schools the state Education Department conducted in the fall. 

Over 200,000 across the state did not have access to a computer device when districts responded to the survey, even as the access gap narrowed from the spring, when schools overnight transitioned to remote learning.

The bulk of the students without device access, about 125,000 of them, live in New York City, but still around 90,000 students outside of the city did not have device access, according to the reports from schools compiled by the state. Over 99 percent of schools responded to the survey.

While students went without devices in districts across the state, and across different wealth categories, 10 percent of students in high-need urban and suburban school districts did not have computer access, according to the state data.

Thousands of students in the Schenectady and Albany school districts have spent at least some time this school year without access to a sufficient school device, though those margins have come down throughout the year. Schenectady district officials have said the only students without a computer are those in families that have not returned outreach attempts to schedule a chance to distribute a device to those kids; the district is also working to replace tablets with laptop computers, especially in secondary grades, upgrading the devices students are using to devices more compatible with online learning.

Moreover, over 165,000 students statewide did have sufficient internet access, about 6 percent of the state’s schoolchildren, according to the state data. About 50,000 of the students with insufficient internet access live outside New York City. 

Over 11,000 rural students reported insufficient internet access in the fall, or about 7 percent of rural students in the state, as many rural districts have highlighted a lack of broadband access in many remote parts of the state or in pockets of certain areas within districts. 

Rural districts reported availability as the prime barrier to reliable internet access, while urban and suburban districts cited cost as the prime barrier to internet access. 

The Education Department on Monday did not make available a district-level breakdown of the survey results, which would highlight the access challenges Capital Region districts have grappled with this school year. 

State officials cautioned that the results were a “snapshot” of the device and internet access that districts reported in the late fall and early winter and that access has improved in some districts. Districts reported that over 90,000 students statewide were awaiting computer devices that had been ordered. Many districts have waited months on computer orders placed in the spring, sometimes receiving small batches at a time or being told orders were again delayed. 

“They really are trying,” Kimberly Young Wilkins, a deputy education commissioner, said of school districts. “What happened in the spring looked far different by the fall, and as we move forward, it will continue to look differently because of availability of devices.”

While the abrupt shift to remote learning has illuminated disparities in access to computers and internet, one net result in the pandemic could be a massive expansion of the use of computer devices in school districts. Nearly 1.9 million students statewide – nearly 70 percent of the state’s students – had access to a computer device provided by their district, according to the state data.

Public overwhelmingly supports suspending state assessments

Students, teachers and parents across the state overwhelmingly support cancelling all state tests this year, according to public comments to the state Education Department’s proposed federal waiver requests. 

More than 80 percent of public comments and responses to a survey about the waivers supported the state holding no state tests this school year, including statewide math and ELA tests for students in 3-8 grades and high school Regents exams. 

Wilkins, the deputy commissioner, said the state planned to move forward and submit the waiver requests later this week, expressing hope the new federal administration would act in an expedited manner.

Regents continue to denounce Cuomo budget proposal

Members of the Board of Regents on Monday also continued to denounce Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, arguing Cuomo’s cuts to state aid could devastate schools districts over the coming years. 

After receiving a presentation from department staff on Cuomo’s proposed budget, members of the board criticized the proposal, highlighting cuts to state aid, a consolidation of school aid reimbursement categories and the defunding of specific programs as harmful to schools and education.

“These are draconian, these are arbitrary, and these are cynical cuts, and I must talk about it that strongly,” Regent Frances Wills said during Monday’s meeting.  

Interim Education Commissioner Betty Rosa, who later in the meeting was appointed the permanent state education commissioner, again reiterated concerns that by replacing state aid with federal aid, the governor’s proposed budget sets up school districts for a major fall off in school funding in the coming years. 

“We have a one-time possibility of infusion of federal dollars, but at the same time the (state aid) cuts that are reoccurring are exceedingly difficult and are quite challenging for school districts and our communities,” Rosa said.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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