Filling the Internet gap for students


A Franklin County and city of Columbus-led collaborative is working to fill a critical needs gap of for thousands of Franklin County K-12 students who will have online learning this fall, yet lack computers and Internet service.

The collaborative – which includes the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, and JPMorgan Chase – was formed in the past couple of weeks as the likelihood of online learning in the fall continued to become more likely.

“This has become a critical issue during this pandemic. Data shows that as many as one in four students do not have the Internet in the home and even more don’t have a computer. This means far too many students will fall behind,” said John O’Grady, president of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners.

Franklin County will provide $500,000 to fund computers and hotspots for school districts within the county, yet outside of the Columbus City Schools, which already has a program in place to assist students. The city of Columbus will provide $1.5 million in funds for what are called win-win districts, areas that have been annexed by the city of Columbus, where students are allowed to attend the suburban districts.

“Health and safety of our young people has to be our top priority. At the same time, we cannot let students fall behind because they don’t have the technology needed to participate in virtual learning,” said Mayor Andrew Ginther. “I appreciate the collaboration with the county and community partners to solve this problem for our youth.”

Many details of the plan are still being worked out, including which schools and students will be assisted first.

The collaboration aims to stretch the computers and hotspots to as many homes as possible and will receive help from the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio with distribution.

“We are continuously looking for ways to support schools, families, and students by optimizing resources and facilitating connections with partners. Our goal is to make it easier for schools to focus on educating their students – and this program is set up to do just that,” said Dr. Tom Goodney, superintendent of the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission has been facilitating the creation of this program and will continue to help in a supportive role.

“The current health crisis makes clear the urgency for the whole community to gain broadband access for work, school and life. This program is a way to address the real needs, right now, in partnership with school districts across central Ohio, while long- term work continues to help communities plan for digital infrastructure and broadband needed in the future” said William Murdock, executive director of MORPC.

JPMorgan Chase was the first private company to step forward, making a $50,000 philanthropic investment focused on helping with the Broadband Access Program. Additional private partners are being sought to help expand the reach of the program.

So far, the Franklin County Commissioners have committed more than $30 million in CARES Act funding for assistance to Franklin County residents and businesses. Other assistance they have provided includes grants and loans to businesses, eviction assistance, emergency grants for residents, workforce training, home-delivered meals for seniors, minority business assistance, emergency overflow center for COVID-19 patients and more.


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