Gov. Justice announces 6 million dollars to broadband; outlines additional resources for school operations

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – Gov. Justice announced that in order to ensure all West Virginia students have the access to broadband that they need to participate in virtual or remote learning, he is committing $6 million to his new Kids Connect initiative.

Under this program, the Governor’s Office of Technology will work alongside the WVDE and the Higher Education Policy Commission to establish over 1,000 free wireless internet access points statewide by Sept. 8, with locations in all 55 counties.

“Today, there’s 40 percent of our state where our kids can get onto broadband,” Gov. Justice said. “What this will enable them to do is go to one of these 1,000 locations and go into a parking lot, or whatever it may be, and download their online assignments.”

The access points will be in the parking lots of all Pre-K-12 schools, totaling 688 sites. Additional access points will be provided at 32 higher education institutions, 255 libraries, and 31 of West Virginia’s state parks.

Later in his address, the Governor also announced that he is planning to work alongside the WVDE and each county board of education to make sure that all students have access to devices like laptops and tablets so they can participate in virtual learning.

“If they don’t have a laptop or a tablet, what we want to do is be able to provide one for every kid in this state,” Gov. Justice said. “We’re going to make sure that our kids can get online. We’re going to deliver a quality education to all of our kids.”

Transportation
During his remarks, the Governor added that he is working with education leaders to ensure that, if a student needs transportation to school, a feeding location, a Kids Connect broadband access point, or to sports practice, transportation will be provided through each county’s bus system.“We’re going to send buses so we can get our kids to these needs as best as they possibly can,” Gov. Justice said. “Is it tough? Yes. But there is nothing more important than providing our kids with access to these resources and opportunities.”

School sports
Gov. Justice added that he and Superintendent Burch continue to work alongside West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan on how to make sure our athletes are safe, and how to account for the possibility that some counties may have to stop in-person sporting events if community transmission rises to a high level.

Private and Christian schools
The Governor also announced today that he is providing $1.6 million to all private and Christian schools across the state to use for their reopening plans.“We know all the great work you do,” Gov. Justice said. “It is phenomenal, the successes you have and we commend you in every way on that.”

The funding will come out of West Virginia’s portion of Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds, provided by the U.S. Department of Education to support educational needs in each state related to COVID-19. The GEER funds, approved by Congress through the CARES Act, are a separate allocation from the $1.25 billion in discretionary funds appropriated to the State.

“This money will flow to you immediately to help you be better prepared to reopen your schools as well,” Gov. Justice continued.

The Governor added that the WVDE has another $1.6 million for private and Christian schools that came from another federal bucket of money. However, those funds are currently tied up in a lawsuit. Gov. Justice pledged that, if the legal problems are cleared up, the additional $1.6 million will also be sent for COVID-19 response purposes.

Community
Finally, the Governor discussed how, in many cases, schools are seen as a community lifeline to children who may be in need of support.“We all know that in a lot of instances, the safest place a kid can be is in school,” Gov. Justice said. “We know that there are all kinds of people, from our health experts to all kinds of people from the education community, who are working to provide that place where we can recognize trauma or abuse or neglect and we can aid in helping kids if we have them where we can have our eyes on them.”

Tyler Barker
Tyler Barker is currently the News Director and Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. He was promoted to this job in Mid-November. He still will fill in on weather from time to time. You can follow Tyler on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email him at tbarker@woay.com