Gov. John Bel Edwards has decided to use $32 million of $50 million in discretionary federal dollars for computers and improved internet access for public school students, officials said Monday.

Another $15.5 million will go to higher education, including $10 million to accelerate training for students so they can help re-charge Louisiana's economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The money stems from the state's share of a $2.2 trillion stimulus package called the CARES Act.

It is on top of $287 million for public schools and $147 million for colleges and universities, which were announced in April.

The $50 million is called the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund and includes grants for both public schools and colleges.

The $32 million "will directly support bridging the digital access divide through the purchase of student devices and internet access points," according to plans spelled out in state documents.

In a statement Monday, Edwards said once the money became available he sought input from a wide range of stakeholders, including leaders of the House and Senate education committees.

The governor said it became evident that the best use of the dollars would be addressing the shortage of devices and connectivity.

"Once schools resume we know they will have to operate differently," Edwards said. "Distance learning will be a critical tool to enable student learning to continue."

The longstanding digital divide issue came to light again in mid March when public schools were closed because of the virus.

That forced school districts to scramble amid efforts to continue teaching through distance learning and other steps.

About one-third of households in the state lack internet access, and others are dependent on weak signals.

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More than 1 in 4 public school students lacks access to a computer or tablet at home to help with distance learning, according to a state survey released in April.

Louisiana is fifth from the bottom when it comes to the lack of adequate Internet connections and devices to do school work, according to a survey released Monday by a nonprofit group called Common Sense.

The gap was one of the major stumbling blocks to continued education after classrooms closed, and is sure to be an issue again with some schools relying on remote learning when the 2020-21 school year begins in August.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said Sunday the governor's injection of dollars for computers means about two thirds of the state's 720,000 public school students will have their own devices.

"I know the governor is really interested in trying to help all the systems get to one to one," Brumley said, a reference to all students having their own computers. "This will certainly help get some there."

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said Monday she asked state economic development leaders about a month ago to identify top job needs around the state.

Reed said officials of community colleges were asked to gear up to make credentials linked to those jobs available quickly.

"The goal is to scholarship individuals into a short-term credential that has a job at the end of it so we can allow people into employment at no cost to the individual," she said.

High-demand jobs include emergency medical technicians, which pays $36,000 per year and requires one semester of training, or five months.

Others include certified nurse assistants, $28,000 per year; cybersecurity analysts, $60,000-$80,000 per year and mobile crane operators, $65,000 per year.

Another $4.75 million will be used to narrow the digital divide in higher education, including training on how to deliver courses by the state's roughly 10,000 faculty members.

"When you have a light switch of changing from in-person education to online education there is a lot of work that has to be done to get better at it," Reed said.

Reed said officials earlier ordered 1,200 laptops that have been delivered to colleges and universities.

A state survey showed the need for 14,000 laptops, 14,000 hotspots and 5,000 iPads.

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