Edison donation powers distance learning in Farmersville

Farmersville Unified receives a portion of $520,000 grant from Edison International to provide Chromebooks, WiFi to school districts in need

FARMERSVILLE — When Farmersville Unified’s spring semester ended abruptly, the district office knew anything more than a few weeks of distance learning would cause some significant interruptions to education. It wasn’t because teachers and administers were unwilling or unable to adapt to online learning but rather the inaccessibility of curriculum and instruction to their students.

Farmersville Unified School District only had 1,300 devices to check out to more than 2,500 students, many of which did not have a computer at home. Even worse, nearly one-third of students had no internet service at their home. That left about two-thirds of Farmersville’s students unable to participate because they did not have internet access.

The issue prompted Mayor Greg Gomez to sign a petition calling for Gov. Gavin Newsom to convene a special legislative session to pass legislation to essentially make broadband internet access a publicly regulated utility.

“Our lawmakers have failed to meet this urgent need at our most urgent hour. California cannot wait until next year to begin to address the pervasive digital divide,” the letter from more than 60 community leaders and officials said.

But it was another public utility that came to the rescue for Farmersville students. Before the start of the fall semester, Superintendent Paul Sevillano said FUSD received a donation of 1,800 Chromebooks from the Southern California Edison and 200 WiFi hot spots from wireless carrier T-Mobile. By identifying which households have multiple students, Sevillano said the district should be able to provide internet access for almost all of its students. That equation got a little easier when the district received another 100 WiFi hotspots from Staples, meaning every household in the district has internet access.

“We are not serving 650 students with those 300 hotspots,” Sevillano said. “All of our students now have access to a device and the internet.”

The donation is part of a $520,000 donation from Edison International, the parent company for SoCal Edison, to the California Bridging the Digital Divide (BDD) Fund, a statewide effort to provide students with equitable access to quality public education during the COVID-19 pandemic being coordinated by the California Department of Education (CDE). Edison International’s gift is comprised of an in-kind donation of 600 refurbished laptops, valued at $270,000, and $250,000 in cash grants used to purchase WiFi hotspots or pay for internet services.

“The COVID-19 crisis in K-12 education is taking a disproportionate toll on students, families and educators in our communities,” said Caroline Choi, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs at Edison International and Southern California Edison. “This donation will equip school districts in our service area with needed resources to support distance learning for thousands of students and teachers.”

The grants were paid using Edison International shareholder dollars, not SCE customer funds.

“Keeping students connected to the internet and equipping them with laptops and technology is essential during the current pandemic,” said State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-14) where her district includes Tulare County. “Edison’s donation to the California BDD Fund that will help equip students in Tulare County with what they need to virtually attend school. Without their help, many kids in my district would be unable to learn and grow.”

Farmersville Unified School District, along with Inglewood Unified School District (Los Angeles County) and the Lake Elsinore Unified School District (Riverside County) were among those receiving learning resources—hotspots, laptops and notebook computers—funded by Edison International’s cash grants.

The California BDD Fund is a joint effort of the governor’s office, the state board of education, the California Department of Education, and the Californians Dedicated to Education (CDE) Foundation. Edison International partnered with CDE Foundation, which purchased the learning resources in bulk using funds from Edison International’s cash grants. Based on initial survey data, the foundation identified the schools most in need, and allocated the items accordingly.

“When life throws you a curveball, it takes relationships and partnership between government and the community to get the job done,” State Assembly Member Devon Mathis (R-26) said. “I couldn’t think of a better school district to receive this donation. Thank you to Edison and the CDE Foundation for giving these students a hand up.”

Two San Bernardino County schools—Twentynine Palms High School of the Morongo Unified School District, and Clement Middle School of the Redlands Unified School District – will receive 400 and 200 laptops, respectively, with updated software for distribution to students. The laptops were previously used by SCE employees before they were refurbished. The California BDD Fund seeks to address the digital divide to build more equitable teaching and learning environments, especially for special education, English learner, low-income, and rural populations.

“We need to use technology as a tool to educate and not just for distance learning. Devices are part of how we do schooling in the 21st century,” said Wendy Dougherty, chief operating officer of the CDE Foundation. “We look at this as an opportunity to bridge the digital divide. Hopefully, we have raised awareness of this critical issue for the long term.”

Edison International (NYSE: EIX) is one of the nation’s largest electric utility holding companies, providing clean and reliable energy and energy services through its independent companies. Headquartered in Rosemead, California, Edison International is the parent company of Southern California Edison Company, a utility that delivers electricity to 15 million people across Southern, Central and Coastal California. Edison International is also the parent company of Edison Energy, a global energy advisory company delivering comprehensive, data-driven energy solutions to commercial and industrial users to meet their cost, sustainability and risk goals.

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