Guilford County Schools is developing a plan to continue supporting technology upgrades and student devices after federal COVID-19 funding expires this year. 

During the beginning of the pandemic, school districts across the country had to shift to remote learning.

To make that transition, many districts used Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds to supply students with the necessary technology. 

But as that funding expires in September, districts need to figure out how to sustain those upgrades moving forward. 

Guilford County Schools is no exception. The district’s Chief Technology Officer Rashad Slade spoke about this at a recent school board meeting.

“The pandemic catapulted the technology growth in GCS," Slade said. "Prior to COVID, GCS was not a one-to-one district, which means there was not a device for all students and all staff.”

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

The roughly $39 million price tag for that included warranties, set up, delivery, and ongoing support and repairs. And because these laptops and iPads are being used by children, Slade said there have been lots of repairs.

“Based on January to December 2023, 22,530 Chromebooks were repaired during that calendar year," Slade said. "That's a 34% damage rate. If warranties were not active on these Chromebooks that would have cost the district $2.6 million in repairs alone.”

And those warranties are all set to expire soon. While GCS isn’t losing any devices in the upcoming school year, Slade says students need to receive more guidance on proper use and care to minimize the damage rate. 

GCS Superintendent Whitney Oakley shared that the district may eventually lose some of the extra instructional resources and tools purchased using ESSER funds.   

"There are some expensive tools that we were able to supplement remote instruction with that we will not be able to afford past the ESSER cliff," Oakley said. "But not the software that keeps us safe and the devices working."

The district is working to develop a lifecycle replacement plan in order to build a financially sustainable one-to-one program for the future. 

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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