Texas working to address supply chain issues with electronic devices as students return to school

State News

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As some school districts are beginning fall classes across Texas, some issues with getting kids connected for their virtual lessons are arising.

Mom of two students, Esther Spengler, said while her daughters were provided laptops by their school district, they had to share her phone on the first day because they didn’t have internet access.

“With just the one smartphone, we started one and then we had to say after about half an hour, we’re like, OK, we have to leave now because the other sister needs to tune in,” Spengler said.

Spengler said Leander Independent School District is working to get them a hotspot by the end of the day, but the process was frustrating.

“I never thought that I’d be in this position where I was, like, depending on the system to figure out my problems,” Spengler said.

In a news conference with local leaders in Lubbock, Gov. Abbott said Thursday the state is working to resolve these issues.

“The state is working with school districts to make sure that there will be super-efficient hotspots, as well as laptops and any type of technology that is needed to close the digital divide, and already there has been almost half a billion dollars aggregated for that,” Gov. Abbott said.

That $500 million went to Operation Connectivity, which offered the option to school districts to bulk-order devices they needed for the school year. Just over 800 schools took part, but that funding does not solve supply chain issues.

According to information sent to school districts, there is currently a two-to-four week delivery estimate for hotspots, a four-to-five week wait for laptops and iPads, and a 10-week wait for Chromebooks.

The Texas Education Agency said Chromebooks are in high demand across the country.

“November 1, is what I’m hearing on the 6,000 Chromebooks that we have on order,” Abilene ISD Superintendent Dr. David Young said.

AISD later clarified that statement, explaining, “The actual date we have is on 3,000 that we ordered before Operation Connectivity was launched. When we ordered an additional 3,000 through Operation Connectivity, we were given the 10-14-week delivery date.”

School districts, including AISD, tell KXAN Chromebooks are the more cost-effective, user-friendly option. The TEA said school districts have the option of switching devices if the 10-week wait for the Chromebook is too long.

Gov. Abbott said in a press conference in El Paso Thursday that the state is forming a team to address the supply-chain issues.

“I have heard some stories, input, about supply chain-based issues, that would limit access to those devices. We have a supply chain team working in the state response that will be assisting the Texas Education Agency in trying to accelerate the immediate access to those supplies,” Gov. Abbott said.

While Abilene will have to wait for some devices, AISD said the students in their district who are in immediate need of devices have already been given one.

“We have identified about 1,700 students so far who have requested a device. As of today we have enough devices on hand to handle that number of requests. We’ve asked those families who have the means to buy a device for each of their children to do so, but we will do our best to accommodate each child that needs one,” AISD said in a statement.

KXAN has reached out to Google about the supply of Chromebooks, but has not yet heard back.

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