Today, Gov. Phil Murphy, alongside Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz, announced an initiative to help close the digital divide in New Jersey school districts. While the problem has long been apparent, it’s never been more glaringly apparent than when our state spent the last several months engaged in remote learning. NJEA members have long known that too many of our students and their families don’t have access to electronic devices or reliable internet service. The swift pivot to remote learning brought this reality into sharp relief.
Without this access, those students run the risk of falling behind their peers, which we must do everything possible to prevent. The new law will allow the New Jersey Department of Education to provide funds to school districts so they may acquire the necessary equipment for students.
NJEA is pleased that the Legislature and the Department of Education have seized the opportunity to find a solution. As NJEA members, students and families face the uncertainty of what the upcoming school year brings, we know unquestionably that we must work to close the digital divide. This new effort, and the financial support behind it, will help move districts in the right direction.
In his remarks, Murphy highlighted the quality of New Jersey’s public schools and gave credit to New Jersey’s educators for that success. But he highlighted the fact that the remote learning implemented at the end of last year disadvantaged too many students. He noted that the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will provide funding for districts to close approximately half of the gap. But, Murphy said, “We will not stop at half and will not leave districts to close this gap on their own.”
Murphy also acknowledged the likelihood of at least some remote learning in the coming year, noting that it makes the effort to close the digital divide even more critical. “‘Most’ and ‘many’ aren’t words that are going to work anymore. It has to be everybody. All of our kids,” Murphy said.
Senate President Sweeney and Education Chair Ruiz also spoke about the importance of providing opportunity to everyone.
“Because of financial wealth or position, some children get an opportunity for an education and some don’t,” Sweeney said. “That’s not how it should be. It should be that we all have that opportunity. The greatest equalizer in the world is an education.”
“Our educators went above and beyond in turning their living rooms into learning labs,” Ruiz added. “We don’t know what September will hold. Let’s equip every single child with the resources that they need.”
NJEA President Marie Blistan commended the governor’s and legislators’ commitment to closing the digital divide.
“This is an important step toward equity and justice for all students,” said Blistan. “Even in the best of times, all students need full access to digital resources in order to compete and succeed. With the strong likelihood that a significant amount of education in the coming year will take place remotely, we cannot waste another minute in making sure that no student is excluded from learning because of a lack of necessary tools. I commend Gov. Murphy, the Legislature under the leadership of Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin and the Department of Education for recognizing this imperative and acting on it today.”
“We have a lot of work to do to address the racial and social inequities that pervade our schools,” said Petal Robertson, Montclair Education Association president and present at today’s bill signing. “One of the biggest indicators of inequity is the digital divide. Like our students, we must continue to learn, grow and adapt, so we can meet our students’ needs and achieve the collective success that New Jersey is now known for.”
“We recognize that districts don’t always have the means to pay for this equipment, and it’s no secret that state aid is going to be limited in the 2020-21 school year,” said Irvington Education Association President Michael Byock, also attending the signing. “Addressing the digital divide through these funds will help all students fully participate in virtual learning.”