ST PAUL, Minn — A public-private partnership is aiming to get internet access and technology to Minnesota students who lack it, as the possibility of continued distance learning looms this fall.
Gov. Tim Walz announced the initiative on Tuesday, called ConnectedMN. It's made up of several private companies and foundations with a mission of getting school-aged children connected with the necessary technology for the upcoming academic year.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), about 25,000 students do not have the technology and high-speed internet access they need for distance learning. That 25,000 is disproportionately made up of students of color, Indigenous students, and low-income families.
Before classes start this fall, the goal of the partnership is to supply those students with needed technology. ConnectedMN will also work to provide "reliable, affordable broadband access" in communities around the state.
“I’m grateful to see Minnesota companies step up and help meet the needs of students,” Walz said in a Tuesday news release. “We need to work together — as individuals, state agencies, private companies, and schools — to face the opportunity gap and make sure that Minnesota is the best state for each and every child to grow up and receive the best education possible.”
The partnership includes Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, the Minnesota Business Partnership and the state of Minnesota.
“Access denied is opportunity denied,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement for the Blandin Foundation, in a statement. “It will require partnership to make sure that every student, in every corner of every county, has access to the knowledge, learning and services for their success.”
The Minnesota Department of Health has told schools across the state to prepare for different scenarios for this fall as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. The three possibilities are in-school learning, distance learning, or a hybrid of both. A final decision is expected July 27.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that in-school classes resume this fall, with safety measures in place.