State to fund tech updates through local libraries

Wolf seeks $15M for improvements

A new $15 million Wolf administration relief fund will allow state libraries to expand internet access to their local communities.

The administration estimates $1.4 million of the plan will go to public libraries to improve internet connectivity in geographic areas of the county deemed “most in need,” according to a release. The funds will also address “technology deficits” and expand Wi-Fi hot spots and lendable technology through public libraries.

Additionally, the plan will use about $100,000 to “strengthen and expand the existing 24/7 online homework help through the POWER Library Chat with a Librarian service.”

“Any additional funds we can get into our county for connectivity issues that families are having while navigating this new virtual learning environment will be helpful,” Jen Knisley, system administrator for the Blair County Library System, said. The BCLS includes Altoona, Bellwood, Claysburg, Martinsburg, Roaring Spring, Hollidaysburg, Tyrone and Williamsburg.

Knisley, who is the executive director of the Altoona Area Public Library, said students visit the building with counselors to do schoolwork and use Wi-Fi each day. She said this provides some supervision for the students and a reliable internet service for their access needs.

“I can imagine that things get tense in homes where there are multiple children on Google Classroom at one time draining the bandwidth,” she said.

The relief fund will employ a multi-pronged approach that includes the use of state library networks and other partnerships, including the Pennsylvania Technical Training and Assistance Network.

Knisley said she has not yet received a time frame on receiving funds nor specific stipulations on spending.

The broader goal of the funding, the release said, is for schools to secure broadband, mobile hotspots and other platforms that increase equitable access to remote learning.

“As schools reopen this fall, students need internet connectivity, computers and other technology, and access to remote-learning platforms,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in the release. “This funding will help our students as we enter the new school year.”

The funding will also include:

n $8 million to establish a statewide datacasting initiative — which uses over-the-air TV signals to deliver educational content — with Pennsylvania PBS to connect students to learning content who don’t have access to the internet.

n $3 million to distribute devices to be used in conjunction with datacasting technology for households without a connection to the internet, such as datacasting antenna, laptops, and provide the technical support and professional development to connect students to learning.

n $2 million to distribute accessible/assistive technology, including software and tablets, for K-12 students with special needs.

n $500,000 for Open Educational Resources for students and educators. OERs give students access to a wider range of instructional materials, including textbooks, videos and research, free of charge.

Mirror Staff Writer Dom Cuzzolina is at 946-7428.


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