The Colony City Council agreed to spend money that will help local students have better access to technology.

During last week's meeting the council approved a resolution authorizing the city manager to allocate $10,000 in CARES Act funds to purchase iPads and internet hotspots for Lewisville ISD students who live in The Colony.

Operation Connectivity was set up by the governor's office and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to help address the digital divide in the state.

“With COVID happening it's really exposed a lot of the gaps in school districts where students and families don't have access to the internet,” said Joe Perez, director of community relations and programming. “Now with virtual learning a lot of these folks are having issues being able to participate in that.”

The state set aside $200 million in CARES Act funding to match $200 million in local school district funding. The $400 million would be used to purchase hotspots and devices to provide technology to students who don't have it.

Assuming LISD spends $100,000 on a bulk order of devices and hotspots, The Colony would contribute $10,000, and the TEA would provide a matching amount of $10,000, plus a base contribution of $50,000. The remaining $30,000 would come from LISD, which would be reimbursed by the TEA.

Perez said LISD has identified 1,637 students in The Colony feeder pattern in pre-kindergarten through third grade who are eligible for a free/reduced lunch. Those students will receive an iPad.

Officials said with the iPad program all of the apps would be installed, and the devices would be filtered. The students would not be sharing devices in the classroom, and the iPads would have the same platform, making it easier to support, train and communicate.

Bryon Kolbeck, chief technology officer for LISD, said the iPads would be good for the life of the device, and he said the district typically uses those devices for five years.

In addition, there were approximately 200 students in all grades in The Colony pattern who said they don't have internet access when asked on a back-to-school form. Those students would receive a hotspot with 12 months of service.

Council members agreed that helping students access the technology they need is important, but they had problems with the parameters around the program.

For one, only CARES Act funds can be used for this matching program. And with weeks after cities received their CARES Act funding, many of the cities have spent it. In fact, Kolbeck said there are no opportunities for matching funds for the other cities within LISD, except for Plano, because they already used their CARES Act funding. But he said Lewisville may use Community Development Block Grant funding to help provide access.

“You guys were dealt a bad hand in the short amount of time you were given to pull this together,” Mayor Joe McCourry told Kolbeck.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Richard Boyer took issue with the state's implementation of the program.

“The state that's trying to limit our money is now making the school districts come out and ask for money that we were given,” Boyer said. “I'm not crazy about the way this was set up. It doesn't mean I wouldn't support giving money to this cause.”

McCourry said the general fund can be adjusted so some CARES Act funds can go toward the program while the original amount will go toward public safety reimbursement from the pandemic, which was the council's original intent of its CARES Act funds.

“We want to help LISD help our kids,” he said.

Kolbeck said this program is a short-term solution and that newer technology and using existing infrastructure may be long-term solutions. 

“The fastest way to get this turned on during the pandemic was the hotspots,” Kolbeck said.

Kolbeck said the number of students needing this assistance in The Colony is low compared to others in the state.

“It is a problem across the state, and the gap needs to be closed,” Kolbeck said.

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