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Play 4 – Assist Districts with a Menu of Options

Local school districts are often most knowledgeable about student, family, and community needs and resources and best positioned to make decisions, including selecting the best solution(s) to address home internet access for students. However, many districts – particularly small or rural districts – would benefit from additional capacity, expertise, and support to evaluate the range of possible broadband access solutions and select the approach(es) that will ensure connectivity for students. In states where local governing bodies have greater governance and management responsibility for public schools, states can support districts in navigating and selecting broadband solutions to address the digital divide for students. States have a bird’s eye view of the ISPs operating in the state, existing or forthcoming state broadband infrastructure investments that can be leveraged, or knowledge of federal and state broadband funding opportunities. States can equip districts with information on the available broadband solutions and the factors that will impact their effectiveness (e.g., geography, population density, technologies), to support informed local decision-making.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are some things we might include on a menu of options?

A menu might include a range of tools or services that align with the identified needs of LEAs. States should consider what resources, expertise, tools, or services they have the capacity to provide. This could include infrastructure (e.g., information on different connectivity solutions), hardware (e.g., centralized procurement vehicle for laptops or tablets), software (e.g., access to certain educational software via a statewide license), technical assistance, or training. For example, in a state that recently passed legislation requiring each school district to maintain a learning management system (LMS), the state might provide districts information on the technical specifications, functionality, and pros/cons of different LMS platforms. Alternatively, a state might offer a centralized procurement vehicle for one or more LMS platforms that districts can choose to utilize. States implementing this strategy should consider what resources, expertise, tools, or services they have the capacity to provide. This could include infrastructure (e.g., information on different connectivity solutions), hardware (e.g., centralized procurement vehicle for laptops or tablets), software (e.g., access to certain educational software via a statewide license), technical assistance, or training.

Play in Practice

Launch Nebraska Digital Learning Guidance

Following the spring 2020 school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska ESU Coordinating Council, and Network Nebraska spent summer 2020 developing a practical, step-by-step digital learning guide to help districts prepare for remote learning in the fall and the uncertain future that lay ahead. The guide provided information for LEAs organized into menus of available options in five key areas: infrastructure, devices, software systems, digital content, and professional development and training.

The infrastructure section focused on the goal of achieving equity of broadband internet access to every student home. The guide outlined actions that school districts could “do now” (1-4 weeks) and “do in the near future” (5-26 weeks) and provided project plans for a selection of infrastructure projects a district might choose to address the issue of home internet access for their students. These include mobile cellular hotspots, homework hotspots at community anchor institutions, working with local internet providers, TV white space, wireless education broadband services, and low earth orbiting satellite service. Each project plan outlines the installation timeline, cost estimate, sustainability, and pros and cons.

Excerpt from the Launch Nebraska Digital Learning Guide that shows a sample project outline for a mobile cellular hotspot project.
Excerpt from the Launch Nebraska Digital Learning Guide

Texas Home Learning 3.0

Launched in August 2020, Texas Home Learning 3.0 (THL 3.0) offers Texas districts access to resources and supports in three areas – curriculum, technology, and professional development. THL 3.0 offers access to standards-aligned, digital learning materials aligned with Texas state standards. The materials are customizable and have embedded accessibility supports for English learners and students with disabilities and resources to help familiarize parents with the content. THL 3.0 also offers districts access to three types of accessible technology solutions including (1) a storage and single sign-on system to support content organization and access; (2) a classroom management system that supports student collaboration, and (3) a free 2-year learning management system license. Districts can choose to utilize the three tools independently or in combination based on their needs. Finally, THL 3.0 also offers content and technology-focused professional learning resources to support educators teaching in both in-person or remote settings. Districts can choose to utilize all, none, or some of the resources and supports provided by THL 3.0. All resources and supports are freely accessible to all public schools in Texas and can help free-up limited district funding for other local priorities.

Checklist & Key Questions

  • Identify key connectivity challenges and state-specific resources and solutions that are available in order to create a menu of options to support school districts.
    • Are there state-level data or maps that can support districts in evaluating possible connectivity solutions? (Play 2)
    • What connectivity challenges exist in your state – how might geography, population density, cellular coverage, or state policies/laws (e.g., rights of way, permitting requirements, moratoria on municipal broadband development) impact the types of solutions that will work in different communities across your state?
    • What state-level resources exist that can support district solutions? Consider existing infrastructure resources, funding, capacity support, technical assistance resources: For example, does the state operate a research and education network (REN) that can support district connectivity? Can this existing network support community anchor institution connectivity? Can it be used to extend home connectivity to students? Is there state-owned fiber that can serve as backhaul for districts?
    • Are there existing state contracts with ISPs or hardware or software vendors that can support bulk purchasing by districts?
    • Develop funding formulas that address the most significant needs districts have including taking into account the percentage of students living in poverty, percentage of English learners, small, and/or rural schools.
  • Communicate these solutions so districts have information on which solution(s) will be most successful in addressing their unique challenges.
    • Consider dividing solutions based on the timeline to implementation – some solutions can more quickly be implemented but may be less sustainable overtime; other solutions may require longer lead time.
    • Are there particular solutions that are state supported, for example, through a state contract?
    • What information is needed to help districts understand the available solutions and identify the solutions that will best meet their needs – consider including pros and cons to support district decision-making.
    • Are there school districts in your state that have implemented any of the solutions on the “menu”? How can the state document these examples or connect leaders from school districts to learn more about their experience implementing a solution?
  • Provide technical assistance support to districts, especially those that may benefit from additional technical capacity, to identify their key challenges and solutions.
    • Can you assist small and/or rural districts in writing requests for proposals? 
    • Is there state capacity to support on-the-ground network assessments to help districts assess what resources they have locally and what potential challenges or barriers might exist?
    • What support is available to technology directors as they build out their network? Can you provide a frequently asked question resource on E-rate funding? Can they access help through their intermediate agency?