Dahlia Bazzaz

Washington state will use $24 million from its share of the federal CARES Act stimulus package to make a bulk purchase of 64,000 computer devices for students learning remotely, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office announced late last week.

The move is intended to help school districts that haven’t been able to afford devices for all their students, or whose vendors have backlogs and significant shipping delays, according to a release from the governor’s office.

“Buying them in bulk puts the state at an advantage” and may help students get the devices quickly, said Maddy Thompson, Inslee’s senior education policy adviser, noting that “there have been global supply issues.” In Seattle, a likely delayed shipment of 12,000 iPads for elementary school students prompted district Superintendent Denise Juneau and former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire to call in a favor from Alaska Airlines to expedite the order.

The state is negotiating with a few companies for laptops, Chromebooks and tablets, and is distributing them to school districts based on how many students lack devices. In the next few weeks, a shipment of about 20,000 devices will arrive from an Australian company called Evolve III, which sells laptops and tablets that run on the Windows operating system. They will be distributed to 53 school districts that need them, based on recommendations from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The governor’s office wasn’t immediately able to say which districts would receive the devices.

Those devices, and any others the state orders, must be in students’ hands by the end of the year — a stipulation of using this portion of the CARES Act dollars.

State officials estimate that about 64,000 students don’t have the tech they need to attend school online, but data collection around how many students need computers and tablets has been messy so far.

This is the second round of reinforcements the state has provided school districts to help close digital gaps among students since the pandemic began. After a monthslong campaign from OSPI, the state spent $8.8 million from the CARES package on internet for students.

The state is currently working to identify which districts will receive the devices.