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Hawaii schools to receive $72 million in federal funds for online learning

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More than $72 million in federal COVID-19 assistance funds has been awarded to Hawaii public schools, and a handful of charter and private schools, to help close the “digital equity” gap suffered by students who don’t have a way to connect to the internet at home.

The money is to be used to cover costs of laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hot spots, modems, routers and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use by students, school staff and library patrons.

The $72 million is from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in March 2021.

More than 20% of Hawaii’s public school students couldn’t get online from home at the height of pandemic distance learning in 2020 and 2021, according to state Department of Education statistics, U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Friday.

“This was true nationally,” Case said. “In some cases, broadband didn’t reach into their neighborhoods. … In some cases it was that students didn’t have sufficient tools in the home. In some cases they had the tools in the home, but those tools had five or six people who all were competing for computer time every day. …

“These students were literally struggling on remote learning, or they weren’t learning at all.”

In remote neighborhoods such as Puna on Hawaii island, Case said, Wi-Fi hot spots have had to be driven to parking lots so students could work on laptops in their families’ cars.

The funding helps to “ensure digital equity especially for those Hawaii children who don’t have the equipment or internet access necessary to stay connected and get their work done,” Case said.

And even while schools in Hawaii and nationwide largely have returned to in-person learning, educators say improving connectivity is more important than ever because the pandemic has permanently changed the way education and many other services are delivered.

Internet connectivity is now widely considered a basic need, as schools are increasingly expecting students to be able to work and conduct research online from home. The state Legislature is considering a measure to create an online learning center to train teachers to maximize use of online tools.

Already, more students and teachers than ever are using online platforms such as Google Classroom regularly, said Alex Teece, founder and director at DreamHouse ‘Ewa Beach public charter school, one of the fund recipients.

DreamHouse has not yet received its $29,400 allocation, but Teece said money is needed because every student at DreamHouse is loaned an iPad and a hot spot if needed, and the school is expecting enrollment to rise by about one-third to 400 in 2023.

Almost all of Hawaii’s Emergency Connectivity Fund allotment — $71.5 million — will go toward purchases by DOE, which oversees the state’s 257 public schools. But some private schools and public charter schools are getting portions as well after demonstrating need through applications, Case said.

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s broadband network will get a boost from the separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package enacted in November. It includes a $65 billion “generational reinvestment” in broadband, with at least $100 million going to Hawaii, plus more possible via competitive grants.

Case said people sometimes are surprised to learn that broadband internet serv­ice is still nonexistent even in parts of his urban Honolulu congressional district, such as portions of Oahu’s valleys.

He added, “Puna, south Big Island, East Maui, parts of Kauai — they’re just not on the grid. That just leaves them out of a whole range of the next generation of health care, education, business, social. We’ve got to fix that.”

Case will hold a live conversation at noon Wednesday via his official Facebook page titled “Talk Story: Hawai‘i Broadband,” to discuss the state’s broadband network and digital equity, and how federal resources can be best used to advance connectivity. Guests will include Burt Lum, state strategy officer in the Hawaii Broadband and Digital Equity Office, and David Miya­shiro, founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN.


More than $72 million in federal funding will be given to Hawaii public and private education entities via the Federal Communication Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. They include:


>> Department of Education: $71,520,353

>> State Public Library System: $119,331

Congressional District 1

>> Mid-Pacific Institute: $398,829

>> Hawai‘i Technology Academy Public Charter School: $182,475

>> Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School: $57,855

>> DreamHouse ‘Ewa Beach Public Charter School: $29,400

>> Holy Nativity School: $47,400

>> Mary, Star of the Sea School: $41,526

>> St. Andrew’s Schools: $19,812

>> School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability Public Charter School: $1,960

Congressional District 2

>> Kanu o ka ‘Aina New Century Public Charter School: $131,631

>> St. Anthony Catholic School: $106,000

>> Kihei Public Charter School: $91,596

>> Ka Waihona o ka Na‘auao Public Charter School: $77,152

>> Kanuikapono Public Charter School: $71,412

>> Island School: $58,054

>> St. Joseph School: $31,982

>> Malama Honua Public Charter School: $6,426

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