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Feb 14, 2023

Capitalizing on the Moment: States Collaborate with Education Leaders on Digital Equity Plans

As of February 2023, all states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have received their digital equity planning grants from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), as authorized under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. We are now one step closer to ensuring that technology-empowered learning opportunities become more equitably available to learners across the country. At the Office of Educational Technology (OET), our priority is to support states as they include the voices, needs, and assets of the education community in their digital equity plans.

Therefore, in 2022, OET launched the Digital Equity Education Roundtables Initiative and published Advancing Digital Equity for All, which identifies barriers faced by learners in adopting reliable, high-speed internet, promising strategies for navigating these barriers, and examples of solutions in practice.

The guidance further emphasizes that the education sector can serve as an important partner in developing state digital equity plans. Given their experiences navigating the pandemic, identifying barriers and strategies, developing trusted relationships in communities, and building digital skills, education leaders can provide essential perspectives on how to meet the needs of “covered populations” required by the law.

Here’s how several states have committed to collaborating with education leaders as co-designers of digital equity plans, gathering input from diverse populations by tapping into education networks, and partnering with agencies serving community anchor institutions.

Arizona: The Digital Equity Institute is collaborating with the Arizona Education Department to develop, streamline, and analyze statewide survey instruments to identify pressing needs of school communities. The Institute is also leveraging its relationships with groups that represent various populations within the state. For example, the Arizona Rural Schools Association will be consulted on the needs of learners in remote regions. The Institute further plans to work in support of Tribal Nations whenever invited as determined by the Tribes.

California: The California Department of Education is partnering with the state’s Department of Technology to conduct online and phone surveys and will engage in a statewide listening tour this spring, through which school communities can provide input on the state’s digital equity plan.

Connecticut: The Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology will expand on its role as the state’s connectivity and digital literacy lead by developing the digital equity plan alongside representatives from the K-12, higher education, adult learning, and library sectors. The Commission is engaging various organizations that serve covered populations — including schools and community colleges — with a goal to identify adoption and use barriers, as well as exemplary resources and programs to scale. As a state with high levels of broadband availability but lower adoption, Connecticut will focus on barriers such as cost, onboarding, and perceived value.

Colorado: Led by the Office of the Future of Work at the state’s labor department, three committees are collaborating to develop the digital equity plan — a central working group with representatives from the education sector, a state agency council that invites the Colorado Department of Education, and an open committee available to the public. Colorado is also providing a Digital Equity Research Opportunity fund to community-based organizations that can collect insights on covered populations.

Georgia: The Georgia Technology Authority invited the Georgia Department of Education to its Digital Connectivity Advisory Committee to help develop sustainable strategies. They will also ensure its stakeholder inventory includes organizations and institutions representing different learner demographics. As those groups are consulted, the state education agency will further support by sharing data regarding Affordable Connectivity Program uptake, school bandwidth consumption, and other metrics that can help illuminate pressing barriers.

Hawaii: The state’s broadband office has long led a statewide “Hui,” regularly convening members of different sectors, including school leaders, to build awareness around current digital equity efforts. The Hui will be consulted to engage the education sector as part of the state’s community outreach efforts to build the digital equity plan.

Idaho: The Idaho Commission for Libraries is leveraging its cross-sector relationships and unique perspective on adoption issues. The Commission will conduct household surveys in multiple languages and will engage in regular meetings with district technology coordinators and groups like the Idaho School Board Association.

Illinois: The Illinois Broadband Lab is a collaboration between the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Broadband and the University of Illinois’ Office of the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation. The Lab conducts research activities, including mapping and analysis, data collection from interviews and surveys, as well as community outreach and engagement. Furthermore, the Illinois State Board of Education has been involved in the state’s digital equity coalition and Affordable Connectivity Program meetings.

Indiana: The Indiana Department of Education supports the state broadband office’s efforts to develop the digital equity plan. By sharing its digital readiness and pandemic relief dashboards, as well as data about anchor institutions’ connectivity, the state education agency provided information necessary to identify community needs. The adult education office within the Indiana Department of Workforce Development also contributed to asset mapping and shared survey data from providers about learners’ educational attainment and literacy levels.

Iowa: The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) convened a core planning team that reflects the state’s diversity of learners and prospects for digital skills development. In addition to the Department of Education, the team includes representation for learners with disabilities and those who are incarcerated. Data from focus groups and surveys are also being collected by the University of Northern Iowa. Finally, the library sector is included, as the state’s public libraries are key anchor institutions that support rural communities, immigrant families, and adult learners.

Louisiana: The Louisiana Board of Regents, overseeing the state’s higher education institutions, has been a critical partner in ongoing digital equity planning efforts. For example, the Blanco Public Policy Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has been at the helm of community engagement, partnering with local institutions in all regions to conduct stakeholder roundtables, online surveys, and focus groups. The Board of Regents is further partnering with the LOUIS consortium to identify how academic libraries can support the state’s digital equity work, including by leading a digital literacy pilot program.

Maine: The Maine Connectivity Authority convenes a 40-member digital equity task force to inform the development of the state’s digital equity plan, which among others includes the Maine Department of Education, Community College System, and State Library. The state education agency’s initiatives to provide devices, learning tools, and educator support is recognized in its asset inventory.

Michigan: The Michigan High-Speed Internet (MIHI) Office launched its MI Connected Future listening tour to collect qualitative and quantitative data on barriers impeding access. MIHI aims to incorporate strategies that interested parties — including school communities and higher education institutions — would like to see implemented at the state level, where possible. Multiple rounds of community meetings will be held to ensure that continuous input can inform findings and implementation steps.

Nevada: The Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology (OSIT) engaged in a statewide listening tour to help inform their state digital equity plan, which saw participation from representatives from the education and library sectors. OSIT is coordinating with leadership at the Nevada Department of Education to hear from district leaders, as they also engage with the adult education office and groups like Communities in Schools Nevada.

New York: The State Librarian’s office within the New York State Education Department has led various recent digital equity efforts, including a series of vision-setting summits and federally funded supports for library systems. Now, as the co-chair of an interagency working group tasked with advising the ConnectALL office, they will coordinate collaboration between education and broadband leaders. For example, data regarding student home connectivity will be collected and analyzed, while experts from offices serving Indigenous and adult learners will be consulted on promising strategies.

North Carolina: Led by the Department of Information Technology and the Friday Institute, state leaders have consulted key players in the education sector as they build their digital equity plan, including the Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Digital Teaching and Learning, the University of Carolina System, and HBCUs. The adult learning sector will also be engaged by involving higher education institutions that received a grant under NTIA’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA) regularly partners with various state agencies, including the Pennsylvania Department of Education, on topics of digital equity and literacy. PBDA will soon announce opportunities for stakeholder input on the state’s digital equity plan.
Washington: Washington State University Extension collaborates with the state’s broadband office to support its digital equity planning efforts. Leveraging its reach into remote and rural areas, it continues to facilitate county-level broadband action teams, which provides trainings, identifies needs, and proposes programs to promote digital equity.

West Virginia: The Office of Broadband convenes various partners to inform its digital equity plan, including the Broadband Enhancement Council, which brings together community and technical colleges and industry partners to ensure workforce readiness, the Department of Education, West Virginia University, and Marshall University. The group is in constant communication with one another about how digital equity strategies will impact education, digital skills development, and economic opportunity. To maximize local input, the state coordinated listening sessions with Regional Planning and Development Councils. The state is also coordinating direct outreach with nonprofits, economic development authorities, the state library system, and other state agencies. Finally, the Office of Broadbands initiated a pilot program to support nonprofits that advance digital equity.

Wisconsin: With the Department of Public Instruction represented on the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access, the Public Service Commission (PSC) has been able to access the Digital Equity Public Dashboard, which identifies where students are lacking home access. PSC also convenes a digital equity and inclusion stakeholders group, which has invited district leaders and those that represent Native students and learners experiencing homelessness. Finally, PSC recently awarded several digital equity outreach grants, including for organizations with expertise in how to serve learners in different communities.

State broadband offices can use these examples to craft meaningful partnerships with education leaders — and vice versa — and develop a foundation for digital equity plans that will most equitably meet the needs of all learners, especially those furthest from opportunities.

To provide additional support, OET continues to share examples of community-led efforts to close the broadband adoption gap. Several stories are already published on the digital equity story engine. OET will be publishing more stories throughout 2023 to help generate ideas for impactful strategies.

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