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Digital Equity Champions for All Learners: Dedicated Digital Equity Funding Impacts Washington’s Rural School Districts

Seventy percent of Washington’s districts are categorized as rural/remote and are often less likely than their urban counterparts to raise sufficient local funding to adequately support digital teaching and learning. Rural/remote districts are also often more likely to weigh the costs of technology-enabled instruction and supports against other ongoing initiatives paid through general education funds. Therefore, new, dedicated funding for digital equity seeks to make a difference in these small communities.

Washington’s HB 1365 established the “Digital Equity and Inclusion Grant” program, designed to fund districts in three primary areas: attaining a 1:1 student to learning device ratio, expanding technical support and training for educators, and developing district-based and school-based capacity to assist families and students. With this newfound charge from the state legislature, OSPI is actively assisting rural/remote districts, who often lack capacity for effective grant application and management.

Bre Urness-Straight serves as the educational technology director at the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the state education agency that administers the Digital Equity and Inclusion Grant program. Urness-Straight shared that several small, rural, and remote districts have already observed the impact of the dedicated funds and additional assistance from OSPI. For example, Hoquiam School District, a remote community located on the Western edge of the state, acquired grant funds in recent years for professional learning and new digital tools, such as interactive boards and student devices. However, limited staffing prevented effective integration of technology into instruction. OSPI therefore worked with the district’s leaders, bringing in technology directors from peer districts, to share resources and collaboratively solve issues.

In a testimonial about the Digital Equity and Inclusion Grant, one participating district’s educational technology director also reflected, “In the past, we have purchased stuff and given it to teachers with little to no instruction on how to use it, and it becomes frustrating, and they don’t use it, because they don’t know how. This grant gave us both the opportunity to get the equipment and to help them get up to speed with how to use it.”

OSPI’s work on the Digital Equity and Inclusion Grant program demonstrates how dedicated funding and technical assistance for rural/remote and small districts allows them to build both the technological and human capacities necessary to meet the specific needs of their communities. OSPI continues to work with legislators to help them understand the impact of HB 1365, as well as the ongoing need for dedicated supports for rural/remote districts.