Sen. Marsh Urges Gov. Ivey to Safeguard Students from Coronavirus
Updated: Jul 24, 2020
(Montgomery, Ala.) - In correspondence delivered yesterday, Alabama Senator Del Marsh urged Governor Ivey to allocate funding to increase Alabama's internet connectivity and provide technology devices for distance learning as schools prepare to reopen next month.
The 2019-2020 school year abruptly ended in March due to the onset of the coronavirus. Referencing a recent Wall Street Journal article, the Marsh's letter states that students are expected to return to school with roughly 70 percent of learning gains in reading and less than 50 percent in math relative to a typical year. "For a state that is already ranked dead last in education, this could prove detrimental," said Marsh, who serves as the President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate. "Two of the most obvious hurdles to a consistent, statewide remote learning option is a total lack of or insufficient internet connectivity in many parts of the state and a lack of electronic devices on which students can access their instructional materials." When the federal government passed the CARES Act in the immediate wake of COVID-19's devastating impact, it included a $1.8 billion allocation to the state of Alabama to address expenses directly related to combating the virus. Before the Alabama Legislature adjourned in May, legislators vested Governor Ivey with the authority to spend the federal funds within specified categories, including $300 million for technology and infrastructure related to remote instruction and learning. In the letter, Marsh proposes the following expenditures from the CARES Act money:
$100 million to enhance internet access to educational entities and increase telehealth opportunities
$200 million for technology expenses related to remote instruction and learning to close the gap on devices for our students
Senator Marsh, along with other senior legislators, the Governor's Office and State Superintendent Eric Mackey have been in communication with Apple, Google and Microsoft in recent months to explore options for purchasing devices at the state level to implement an effective distance learning program. Under the current State Department of Education Roadmap to Reopening, local education districts are left to fend for themselves in purchasing such technology. Marsh believes a statewide approach will enable the state to secure devices in a cost-effective manner and allow a magnitude of purchasing that will result in quicker delivery. "While local school systems should have the ability to choose which devices they wish to use, establishing the specifications is most efficiently and effectively done at the state level," said Marsh. The letter also emphasized the importance of implementing "proper precautions to safeguard our students from exposure to the coronavirus while they are in the classroom." Marsh's correspondence to Governor Ivey, who serves as the President of the State Board of Education, comes as the Alabama State Department of Education faces increased scrutiny over what many perceive as a lack of guidance for Alabama's 138 local education agencies in the fight to protect students against COVID-19 and ensure critical learning is not interrupted by the virus.