IRVINGTON, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy moved Thursday to make sure there's a computer in every student’s hands and internet connectivity in their homes.
The initiative to bridge the so-called digital divide in New Jersey will cost $115 million and will be paid for mostly with federal grants. The rest will come from the Coronavirus Relief Fund ($44 million) and state-directed CARES Act money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds ($10 million).
Murphy said about 230,000 New Jersey students were put at a disadvantage when schools closed their doors and initiated virtual learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemics outbreak in March.
Murphy spoke on a basketball court-turned-stage at the Madison Avenue School in Irvington – a city where thousands of students didn’t have the equipment or the means to get it when virtual learning began.
“For three months, from March 18 to the end of the school year, New Jersey students and educators were asked to do what no group of students and educators have ever been asked, ever – to transition from the familiar in-person educational experience to the unfamiliar remote learning experience,” Murphy said.
“We know that in many communities the majority of students and educators were able to virtually connect every day. But when it comes to educating our kids, I think we can all agree that words like ‘many’ and ‘most’ are simply not good enough. And today we are taking a firm step in making sure that every student has what he or she needs in these unprecedented times.”
Another $6 million is earmarked to bridge the divide among private schools, the governor said.
Murphy also called on members of the philanthropic and industrial community to help school districts fill in the gaps going forward.
“No one told me to say this, but I could almost envision an Adopt-a-District notion by a philanthropic entity or a corporate entity,” he said.
The news conference came almost a week after the announcement that the state may borrow up to $9.9 billion to shore up its budget under a deal between Murphy and Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Sweeney (D-Gloucester) had been withholding support for Murphy’s original proposal to borrow up to $14 billion.
On Thursday, they complimented and complemented each other. Sweeney even called for the crowd of educators and administrators to give Murphy an ovation.
“This does mean something,” Sweeney said. “Government matters. When people say we just spend a lot of money on stuff. These are lives. When you look at that budget, every line item is someone being affected, it’s a life being affected. And again, I believe the greatest opportunity for us to succeed is to provide a quality education.”
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) said the move to launch online learning when the pandemic hit revealed the extent of the digital divide, especially in urban areas. And although Murphy has announced his intention to open schools for in-person instruction in the September, she said all the state’s students must be ready to do at least some instruction from their dining room tables.
“There is great work to be done, but this is a great first step,” Ruiz said. “We don’t know what September is going to hold. We don’t know what will happen. We do know many schools will be going hybrid. Let’s equip every single student with the resources they need. Let’s get ready for that family to be secure for digital learning if it has to happen.”