Harris County puts $32M toward buying WiFi hotspots, digital devices for students

All children deserve to have access to high-quality education. However, as public health experts have recommended that we delay in-person instruction and our schools move classes online, some children have been left without the tools to continue their education. Low-income families often cannot afford high-speed internet access and devices that their children need to complete their online coursework, leaving thousands of students without a way to begin school during the pandemic.

A recent study by the nonprofit group, Common Sense, found that one in four Texas students do not have devices at home for distance learning, and one in three lack adequate access to the internet. Of those without adequate connectivity, two thirds are Black, Latinx or Native American.

“Educational outcomes were already highly unequal before COVID-19,” said Commissioner Rodney Ellis, “As instruction moves online, we need to make sure that no child is left behind in their education, particularly those in low-income and communities of color, who do not have high-speed internet and devices at home. I am proud to support County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s initiative, because it will ensure that all Harris County children have access to the necessary tools to safely continue their education.”

The Digital Access Program will use $32 million in CARES Act funding from Harris County to provide 82,000 WiFi hotspots and 211,000 devices for Harris County children through the school districts through two separate programs. The program provides $19 million toward the “Operation Connectivity” program, done in partnership with the Texas Education Agency, to provide 211,000 devices to children in Harris County school districts. Also, $13 million will go toward “Project 10 Million,” a public-private partnership program launched by T-Mobile that will provide 39,000 hot spots for students in under-resourced communities in Harris County.

Complete details of the program and how residents can apply will be communicated as soon as they are available.