District Administration June 2020 - 28

ProfessionalOpinion
Digital equity: Solving the technology
issue through collaboration
Government, telecom companies, the business community and school districts
must work together to overcome significant obstacles

By Lenny Schad

A

s district leaders look beyond the
current school year, they must
take the lessons learned and
develop strategies that will help them
move from a crisis management philosophy to one that incorporates virtual
learning into everyday practice.
One of the most prevalent gaps in
the virtual learning scenario is student
devices and connectivity. For years, there
have been discussions about digital equity, but as an education system we were
never able to solve it. COVID-19 has
forced every district to take on digital equity as a key element to defining and operating under the current circumstances.
Taking a new approach
When analyzing digital equity from a
technology perspective, there are three
factors to consider to fully remediate
this issue: a device in the hands of every
student and teacher; the ability for these
devices to connect to the internet anytime, anywhere at an affordable price;
and existing Wi-Fi infrastructure.
The reason digital equity remains an
issue is that school systems have been
trying to solve this problem on their
own. Solving it will require taking a
different approach and understanding
this is a community issue, not a school
district issue. Resolution can occur if,
and when, the following groups come
together: the local, state and federal gov-

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28 | June 2020

The solution requires a
different approach and
understanding that this
is a community issue, not
a school district issue.
ernments; telecom carriers; the business
community; and school districts.
To get a device into the hands of
every student and teacher, school systems will need to reprioritize budgets.
It is highly unlikely there will be a huge
influx of new funds to accomplish this,
which means school systems must look
at existing funds and current allocations.
Establishing partnerships
Discussions at the federal level regarding
Title monies and removing some restrictions on what these dollars can be spent
on could provide new opportunities for
school district budgets. Reprioritization
discussions will require the abandonment of some "sacred cow" expenditures, and must focus on not only the
purchase of the devices, but also ongoing maintenance, support and life-cycle
replacement. This is a great opportunity
for a school system to establish financial
partnerships with local businesses.
The ability for devices to connect
to the internet anytime, anywhere will
require partnerships with business communities, housing departments and
telecom carriers. In conjunction with
mayors' offices, school systems have an
opportunity to work with community
centers and other local gathering spots
to encourage public Wi-Fi installation.

Conversations with housing departments and apartment complexes should
encourage this for tenant access.
It is commendable how telecom carriers have offered hot spots to school
districts nationwide at a discounted
monthly rate. But most of the discounted rate programs were short term.
I am confident that school systems
and telecom carriers can partner to come
up with a long-term monthly fee that is
both affordable to school districts and
profitable for carriers. Finally, changes to
federal regulations such as E-rate must
be considered to assist in the funding
opportunities currently unavailable.
Providing reliable Wi-Fi infrastructure
We can solve the device and the anytime, anywhere internet connection
issues, but if there is not an adequate,
reliable Wi-Fi infrastructure, it is all
for naught. It impacts homes with and
without internet connectivity.
Solving this problem will require
local governments, school systems and
telecom carriers to work together. This
group must map out the current Wi-Fi
infrastructure coverage for their communities; identify the types of monthly
data plans available; and develop a comprehensive implementation strategy.
Digital equity can't be solved by
simply addressing the technology needs
outlined here. It includes age-appropriate access to systems, instructional resources, staff and training. The problem
will not be solved quickly, but defining
the strategies and solutions necessary to
move forward should be our focus. DA
Lenny Schad is DA's chief information and
innovation officer.
DistrictAdministration.com


http://www.DAmag.me/cioevents http://www.DAmag.me/digitalequity http://www.DistrictAdministration.com

District Administration June 2020

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District Administration June 2020 - Cover1
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District Administration June 2020 - Cover3
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