MONTGOMERY — A program to aid Alabama families with students who are limited to distance learning this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic will provide $100 million for increased internet service, the state said Friday.
Vouchers, which will help pay for the cost of equipment and high-speed internet service through Dec. 31, will be available for students who receive free or reduced-price meals or meet other income criteria, Gov. Kay Ivey's office said in a statement. Eligible families will receive a letter in August.
With high-speed internet service often unavailable across rural Alabama and in some urban areas, the funding will go toward technology including wireless hot spots, home and mobile internet service, the announcement said.
While some students were able to attend classes online after schools closed in the spring to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, many were unable to participate in similar programs because of the lack of reliable high-speed internet.
"A huge part of evening the playing field to provide greater equity in educational services will come from closing the digital divide between varying Alabama communities," Eric Mackey, the state school superintendent, said in a statement.
Public schools are preparing to reopen under a variety of different plans as virus cases remain on the rise across much of the state. Many schools plan to offer only online classes at first, and some are using a combination of traditional classroom teaching and virtual lessons.
Many hospital intensive care units are full or nearly full with about 1,500 confirmed cases being added daily in the state, and at least 1,530 people have died of the disease. Although Ivey imposed a rule requiring facial coverings in public, health officials say cases could increase once schools begin reopening.
Most people infected with the coronavirus develop only mild to moderate symptoms and cover, but it can be deadly for people with underlying health problems and the elderly.
On Thursday, the state announced a program to provide grants of as much as $15,000 to nonprofit organizations and faith-based organizations affected by the pandemic.
Funding for both of the aid programs was provided through federal pandemic relief measures.