Guilford County Schools is developing plans to continue technology upgrades and support for student devices after federal COVID-19 funding expires this year.

Early in the pandemic, school districts across the country had to transition to remote learning.

To make this transition, many school districts leveraged Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to provide students with the necessary technology.

But that funding expires in September, so the district will need to find a way to maintain these upgrades going forward.

Guilford County Schools is no exception. Rashad Slade, the district's chief technology officer, spoke about this at a recent school board meeting.

“The pandemic has accelerated the growth of technology at GCS. Before COVID-19, GCS was not a 1:1 district, meaning there was a device for every student and every staff member. We didn’t,” Slade said.

He said the district has purchased more than 86,000 devices during the pandemic using a combination of federal, state and local funds.

The approximately $39 million price tag includes warranty, setup, delivery, ongoing support and repairs. And because these laptops and iPads are being used by children, many repairs are being done, Slade said.

“Based on January to December 2023, 22,530 Chromebooks were repaired during that calendar year, which equates to a 34% damage rate,” Slade said. If those Chromebooks weren't covered by the warranty, the school district's repairs alone would have cost him $2.6 million. ”

And all those warranties are about to expire. GCS won't lose any devices next school year, but students will need more instruction on proper use and care to minimize damage rates, Slade said.

GCS Superintendent Whitney Oakley said the district could ultimately lose some of the additional educational resources and tools it purchased using ESSER funds.

“There are some expensive tools that could have supplemented remote instruction, but they will be unaffordable once we go over the ESSER cliff,” Oakley said. “But it's not the software that keeps us safe and our devices working.”

The district is working to develop a lifecycle replacement plan to create a financially sustainable 1:1 program for the future.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. Follow @amydiaze on Twitter.

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