Public schools spent millions on tech during the pandemic. What happens when it’s over?

Education

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The days of sending kids off to school with a few notebooks and pencils are long gone. 

Technology has been working its way into classrooms for decades, and the pace accelerated in March of last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools. 

School districts in Hampton Roads spent millions of dollars on Wi-Fi hotspots, computers and tablets, thanks to an infusion of cash from federal CARES Act funds. 

In Portsmouth, for example, a little more than 75 percent of federal funding spent by the school system so far went toward technology.  

Temple Nedab has 7 children in Portsmouth Public Schools, all of them attending virtual school from home. 

When they return to the classroom, she’s confident the school system’s investment in them during the pandemic year will pay off.  

“I can say to anyone out there who doubts or had doubts about whether or not this money was put to good use, my family is a living example that it was,” Nedab said. 

Those funds, however, aren’t promised for future school years and technology doesn’t last forever.  

Portsmouth Public Schools’ instructional technology supervisor Jennifer Thomas says the system does have a plan for continual replacement and upgrades. 

“We will never regress,” she said. “We do a kind of cycle, where we start with older devices and phase those out and bring in new devices using a variety of funds, whether that’s General Funds or Title I for elementary school.” 

For years, PPS was planning for a 1-to-1 ratio of students to devices. The pandemic helped the district reach that goal earlier than expected. 

“We have all been moving more towards blended learning to begin with,” Thomas said. “The CARES Act money just kind of catapulted us to a position where we were able to provide devices from Pre-K up through 12th grade.” 

When virtual learning comes to an end, Thomas says the district will maintain the 1-to-1 ratio in the classroom, giving teachers more options for educating and continuous evaluation. 

“Students can take a quick quiz on their Chromebook and teachers have that data immediately to judge where students are in their learning process,” she said. “COVID’s been tough on everyone and if there’s anything positive that came out of it, it really pushed education to catch up with the rest of the world as far as innovation and technology.” 

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