$23M to get Detroit students tablets, internet amid pandemic

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Jerry Norcia, president and chief executive of DTE Energy, talks Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Detroit about the initiative to give about 51,000 K-12 public school students in Detroit computer tablets and high-speed internet to help transition from classroom to virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic. As schools closed in March as part of the state's stay home order to slow the spread of the virus many suburban districts quickly moved teaching online. Detroit lagged because nine of 10 students don't have access to tablets, computers or the internet. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. – About 51,000 K-12 public school students in Detroit will receive computer tablets and high-speed internet to help transition from classroom to virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic in one of the nation's poorest big cities.

Schools across Michigan closed in March as part of the state's stay home order to slow the spread of the virus. And while many suburban districts quickly moved teaching online, Detroit lagged because nine out of 10 students don’t have access to tablets, computers or the internet.

“When our executive team began prioritizing COVID-19 relief efforts, the issue of digital inequity for Detroit students rose to the top,” said Jerry Norcia, president and chief executive of DTE Energy.

The Detroit-based utility's foundation is one of the groups contributing a total of $23 million to the initiative. Each student in the Detroit Public Schools Community District is expected to receive a tablet by the end of the academic year in June.

“We recognized that we needed to take action urgently to close the digital divide for these students and provide them with the tools necessary to thrive in the 21st century,” Norcia said.

About $17 million will be used to buy the tablets, according to district Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Another $6 million will be spent on internet accessibility, which will be free to parents and students — who will own the tablets — for the first six months of the program.

The school district will fund internet access after that, Vitti said.

There also are plans to look at providing tablets and internet to 36,000 Detroit students who attend charter schools and other schools.