Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced a public-private partnership to help meet the technology and connectivity needs of families with school-aged children.
According to a release from the governor's office, the state is working with Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership as part of Partnership for a ConnectedMN.
The goal is to get technology and internet access to students across the state ahead of the upcoming school year, especially communities in greatest need, including Indigenous and students of color, those in low-income families and those in rural parts of the state.
"I'm grateful to see Minnesota companies step up and help meet the needs of students," said Walz. "We need to work together — as individuals, state agencies, private companies, and schools — to face the opportunity gap and make sure that Minnesota is the best state for each and every child to grow up and receive the best education possible."
The state estimated that at least 25,000 Minnesota students lack the technology and high-speed internet access that is essential for academic learning, out-of-school activities and critical services, such as telehealth. The governor's office said the students are disproportionately students of color, Indigenous students and low-income students.
The partnership will also work to create solutions to the lack of reliable, affordable broadband access in many communities around the state so all students have the necessary tools to connect and engage around school, physical and mental health, and future career pathways.
Business and philanthropic leaders have collectively raised $1.65 million to date, according to the governor's office. Other contributing organizations include Accenture, Andersen Corporation, Bush Foundation, Ecolab, EY, Land O'Lakes, Minneapolis Foundation, Protolabs Foundation, Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, Securian Financial, SPS Commerce Foundation, and Xcel Energy.
The application process will be available later in July. More information can be found here.
Districts can also visit the Minnesota Department of Education's website to apply for funding from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.
"As the parent of a seven-year old, we endured our share of triumphs and challenges with distance learning this past spring," Flanagan said. "Those challenges are exacerbated for low-income families, Indigenous families and families of color, and families in Greater Minnesota who may not have access to technology that meets their work and learning needs. Whatever school looks like this fall, this partnership will help us fill in the gaps."
"As someone who grew up in rural Minnesota in a family without many resources, I am aware of how important this effort is. Without it, far too many of our state's students will be left behind as we face an uncertain school year, more reliant than ever on the tools and resources necessary to learn remotely," said Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy. "As a founding partner, we are pleased to work with the Governor and other organizations to truly 'connect Minnesota' and I call upon my fellow CEOs to engage however they and their business are able."
"It is vital that all Americans are connected to the internet—for education, for work, and for personal health reasons, but unfortunately, many low-income families who live in our service areas don't have internet at home and that's where we can help," J.D. Keller, regional senior vice president of Comcast Twin Cities, added. "We are proud to be a founding partner of ConnectedMN knowing we can help through our Internet Essentials program, which is the nation's largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program for low-income Americans."
"Access denied is opportunity denied," said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement for Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation. "It will require partnership to make sure that every student, in every corner of every county, has access to the knowledge, learning and services for their success."