On September 24, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it is committing $1.2 billion in grants to 3,040 schools, 260 libraries and 24 consortia under the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program. Authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the ECF provides competitive grants to schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband connectivity for students, school staff and library patrons who lack broadband access during the COVID-19 pandemic. County school districts and county libraries are among the recipients of these funds.
While the county role in local public schools varies across the country, all counties share a tax base with local school boards and provide complementary services to local students. Counties also play an active role in supporting and funding K-12 schools in five states including Alaska, Md., N.C., Va. and Tenn., and support more than 1,000 libraries across the nation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the digital divide impacting counties across the nation, with rural and low-income students, in particular, facing barriers to remote learning. While many county governments have used local funds to provide devices, hotspots and other resources to ensure continuity in learning, the ECF will serve as an important resource as we work with our federal partners to implement long-term solutions that address the digital divide.
The list of recently the announced ECF grantees can be found here, while a breakdown of funding by states can be found here. Information about the second ECF application window, which is open from September 28 to October 13, can be found here.
- NACo Broadband Task Force: High-Speed Internet is Essential for all Counties
- FCC announces new resources and funding opportunities aimed at closing the homework gap during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Tracking COVID-19 Relief for Human Services and Education Programs