Harris County aims to end digital divide among students through new $32.1M program

With many school districts starting the school year remotely or offering remote instruction options for the 2020-21 school year, access to the internet and internet-accessible devices will be vital for educating amidst a global pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
With many school districts starting the school year remotely or offering remote instruction options for the 2020-21 school year, access to the internet and internet-accessible devices will be vital for educating amidst a global pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

With many school districts starting the school year remotely or offering remote instruction options for the 2020-21 school year, access to the internet and internet-accessible devices will be vital for educating amidst a global pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

More than 120,000 mobile hot spots and 250,000 devices will be distributed to students in need across Harris County due to a new program unanimously approved by Harris County Commissioners Court on Aug. 11.

With many school districts starting the school year remotely or offering remote instruction options for the 2020-21 school year, access to the internet and internet-accessible devices will be vital for educating amid a global pandemic. Although many school districts have already begun loaning devices to students ahead of the fall semester, the digital divide remains for others.

In hopes of eliminating this technological gap, Harris County Commissioners Court approved $32.1 million in funding needed to establish the Digital Access for Students-Support Program, which will provide hot spots with unlimited data plans and internet-accessible devices such as digital tablets and laptops to school districts throughout the county to loan to students for educational purposes.

"On one hand, I am thrilled we are offering help to families with the goal of flattening the education access curve," Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said in a statement. "However, it pains me that it took a pandemic to close the gap between kids with reliable access to the internet at home and those that, in some cases, are having to use mom or dad's smartphone to do their homework, if such a device is even available in the home. This is a great example of what we can accomplish when the state of Texas and local counties work together to help people in need. My hope is that we see more of this happen in the future."

Combined with T-Mobile's Project 10Million—which commits $10 billion to deliver free internet access and another $700 million in hardware to distribute to households in need nationwide by 2024—Harris County's program will also use federal funds allocated through the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act as well as dollar-for-dollar funds matched by the Texas Education Agency.


Funding through the CARES Act and TEA will allocate $19 million to provide more than 211,000 devices and 80,000 hot spots to students in Harris County, while T-Mobile's Project 10Million will provide 38,000 devices for Harris County students at an expenditure of $13 million. Additional program partners include AT&T and Verizon so the provider with the best coverage in a particular area can be chosen.

"Commissioner Garcia and I share one of our poorest school districts—Aldine [ISD]—and I think that this program is going to be a very important program for them," Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said during the meeting.

All Harris County public school districts are participating in the program, and hot spots are expected to be delivered to school districts within the next two to three weeks, while devices will be distributed within the next three to five weeks.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


MOST RECENT

The newly approved rate of $0.59920 per $100 valuation is a decrease of $0.01250 from the FY 2019-20 tax rate of $0.61170 per $100 valuation; it is intended to mitigate rising property values across the county, officials said. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approves tax rate decrease for FY 2020-21

The newly approved rate of $0.59920 per $100 valuation is a decrease of $0.01250 from the FY 2019-20 tax rate of $0.61170 per $100 valuation.

Located at 307 N. Sam Houston Pkwy. E., Houston, the restaurant offered a variety of Cajun and Creole staples, from seafood gumbo and crawfish etouffée to whole Maine lobster and oysters on the half-shell. (Courtesy Jimmy G's Cajun Seafood)
Jimmy G's Cajun Seafood to close after 35 years in North Houston

After 35 years of serving the North Houston area, Jimmy G's Cajun Seafood announced via Facebook Oct. 24 that its last day of service will be Oct. 30 at 2 p.m.

Harris County residents line up outside of Big Stone Lodge in Spring to cast their votes early. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County early voter turnout on track to surpass total votes cast in 2016 election

All 122 early voting sites throughout Harris County will be open from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 27-29, giving voters an additional three hours to head to the polls.

A Cy-Fair ISD employee distributes meals via curbside pickup for district students during the summer. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
Cy-Fair ISD reports 66 COVID-19 cases among students, staff Oct. 19-25

Cy-Fair ISD officials reported the highest number of new weekly cases since the start of the school year.

Inspired by Nashville hot chicken, the new restaurant will offer chicken tender bites, jumbo chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches and bone-in chicken with five heat level options, from "Wimpy" to "Cluckin' Hot." (Courtesy Tumble 22)
Tumble 22 to bring Nashville hot chicken to Vintage Park

Inspired by Nashville hot chicken, the new restaurant will offer chicken tender bites, jumbo chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches and bone-in chicken with five heat level options, from "Wimpy" to "Cluckin' Hot."

As the Army Corps of Engineers continues to study flood mitigation options for the Buffalo Bayou, Addicks Reservoir and Barker Reservoir watersheds, officials with the Katy Prairie Conservancy said they and a coalition of other stakeholders are urging the Corps to reassess its early findings. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Katy Prairie officials call on Army Corps to rethink flooding concepts in western Harris County

As the Army Corps of Engineers continues to study flood mitigation options for the Buffalo Bayou, Addicks Reservoir and Barker Reservoir watersheds, officials with the Katy Prairie Conservancy said they and a coalition of other stakeholders are urging the Corps to reassess its early findings.

Magnolia's First Baptist Church will host its annual pumpkin patch, featuring food and other activities, such as hay rides, "punkin' chunkin'" and photo opportunities. (Courtesy Magnolia's First Baptist Church)
Fall fun: 8 pumpkin patches to visit in North Houston

From photo opportunities to hayrides, here are a few places to put on your list this fall.

(Courtesy NewQuest Properties)
Shogun Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar opens in Spring and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

(Courtesy NewQuest Properties)
Shogun Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar holds soft opening in Spring

The Japanese restaurant's soft opening was held Oct. 13

An election official directs a car to a spot at the Humble Civic Center's drive-thru voting location. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Supreme Court rules Harris County drive-thru, curbside voting can continue

More than 98,000 ballots cast at drive-thru polling sites across Harris County will be counted in the Nov. 3 election.

An election official directs a car to a spot at the Humble Civic Center's drive-thru voting location. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Drive-thru voting in Harris County becomes popular and more top Houston-area news

Read top stories from the past week from the Houston area.