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High school students in the most under-resourced school districts in Connecticut will be given free laptop computers by The Partnership for Connecticut so that learning can resume online while school buildings are closed indefinitely as a result of COVID-19.

The purchase of the laptops is the first major expenditure of the state’s newly created board of state leaders and billionaire philanthropist Barbara Dalio.

The computers will be distributed in the next few weeks to the 60,551 students attending high schools in the state’s 33 lowest-performing districts – such as Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and New London. When approving the plan during a meeting Monday, the Partnership’s board left open the possibility of also providing another 17,027 computers to students attending high school in districts where more than 40% of the students come from low-income families.

CDC report found that short-term school closures have a minimal effect on containing the virus, but long-term closures spanning 8 to 20 weeks can be effective.

That has left teachers in many struggling districts scrambling to find alternative ways to educate their students who don’t have laptops or tablets at home – while students in neighboring and better resourced districts gear up to begin taking courses online.

“I think there is no better thought to bring The Partnership really on stage than this here, given the number of students who will lose learning because of this crisis,” said Erik Clemons, the chairman of the board. “When I think about access and opportunity that equals equity, this to me could be a real game changer for a lot of kids and a lot of families, quite frankly. I think this is just absolutely incredible in demonstration of our mission.”

Gov. Ned Lamont, a member of the board and the driving force behind its creation, agreed.

“We cannot, as you pointed out Mr. Chairman, afford to let our kids lose three, six months of education. This is the way to address that in the near term, address that by breaking the digital divide so that nobody’s left behind,” Lamont said. “I’m just glad that this partnership is thinking about what they can do for these kids now and also wants to think about the day after to make sure each and every one of us gets back on our feet as fast as they can and leave no one behind.”

In other business Monday, the board appointed Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey as its chief operating officer and president during the meeting. Carey’s salary will be $247,500, which is the salary the board initially budgeted for the position.

Schmitt-Carey’s LinkedIn profile says she is the chief executive officer of Say Yes to Education, a national nonprofit geared at helping high school students graduate high school prepared for college. Before that she was the president of New American Schools, which merged with the national think-tank American Institutes for Research, and helped create a national school improvement program.

“I’m overwhelmed and humbled and at this moment in time. I just can’t think of anything more important to do and I’m just so impressed with you as a board and as a really unique collaborative in the country, so I will be working very hard and earning your trust and belief in your decisions every day,” she told the board after they unanimously approved her appointment.

“Welcome to the team,” Lamont told her.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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3 Comments

  1. This is very good news! I do hope the students have access to wifi. If they are in cities and don’t have their own wifi, perhaps there are ‘hotspots’ they can use or else data plans on cell phones? A cable internet connection costs $60+ per month.

    My aunt teaches in a public school district in PA. She said they are not transitioning to online learning because too many of the students do not have access to wifi or internet-ready devices due to budget constraints at home, and the school district is not in the position to fill the too-large gap.

    1. Most of the large telecoms have donated free access to wifi and hotspots. Much of the fight in PA is over special education services. Easiest way to ensure equal access is offer nothing. Nothing is equal for everyone….

  2. This is such a great program for the partnership. Email your Representative and Senators and insist we get support for schools in future bailout bills. Either in direct to schools or to states to direct distribution,

    Cruise ships getting bailout while kids don’t go to school?? Says something about our priorities.

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