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Education

Let's Get Connected: Dallas ISD Offers Free High-Speed Internet To Qualifying Students

A small electronic device -- a WiFi signal converter -- sits on a windowsill and has a modem cord and another cord attached to it.
Nitashia Johnson
/
For KERA News
The Texas Education Agency worked with internet providers to help get qualifying students access to high-speed internet. Dallas ISD is one of the participating districts.

Dallas ISD's board approved $18 million to get economically disadvantaged students free wired internet at home. The deadline for families to sign up is Aug. 31.

The Texas Education Agency is working with internet providers to help connect more than 1.7 million students across the state who don’t have reliable internet access at home. Dallas ISD is one of three dozen Texas school districts participating. But the deadline to get connected is fast approaching.

Pedro Lopez, 13, is an 8th grader at Dallas ISD’s Greiner Arts Academy in West Dallas.

Last school year, Pedro was a virtual learner and relied on a mobile hotspot. The device casts a wireless signal so Pedro can connect to the internet from home. Even though he’s back to school in person, he still uses his hotspot for class assignments.

“It's really good when they give you homework at school so you can do it at home,” he said.

Phasing out the hotspots

Dallas ISD invested in 40,000 hotspots last school year for families like Pedro’s without reliable internet at home. But the annual contracts for those hot spots are beginning to expire, so the district is switching gears.

The Texas Education Agency negotiated lower rates with AT&T and Spectrum to provide high speed internet for qualifying students. The internet providers are lowering typical costs by 20-40%. Houston and Dallas ISDs are two of the largest districts in the state to sign on to the plan.

“Being able to have a bulk order made a tremendous difference,” said Gabby Roe, project lead for TEA’s Operation Connectivity.

Most students qualify

Dallas ISD’s board approved $18 million to connect economically disadvantaged students who don’t have a wired connection at home. About 80% of students in the district fall into that category.

“We feel that this is a better alternative to a mobile hotspot in that it provides a more robust internet service,” said Jack Kelanic, Chief Technology Officer for Dallas ISD.

He said a wired connection is faster and more reliable than a hotspot. The district is offering the AT&T fiber product which falls in the fastest range for speed. A recent survey conducted by Kelanic’s team showed more than a quarter of all Dallas families have internet speeds below federal standards.

“That’s really inadequate for how our students are using the internet today to participate in remote learning or do just their normal homework activities, upload videos that sort of thing.” Kelanic explained.

Families have until Aug. 31 to sign up

Dallas ISD is fronting the money to get everyone signed up. Kelanic said the lines have to be installed by Oct. 31 for the district to be reimbursed through the federal government’s Emergency Connectivity Fund.

“There's a sense of urgency. Schools are already in session,” Kelanic said. “We're already talking about virtual programming options for some of our students. So, we really want to get these services installed as quickly as possible.”

Families can apply through the Dallas ISD website.

Kelanic said being able to provide fixed internet connections is a better solution than mobile hotspots, but not a long-term solution.

“This program and the funding will only carry us through August 31, 2022, but that does buy us a little bit of time to continue to develop our private cellular network,” he explained.

Sujata Dand can be reached at Sdand2003@gmail.com.