CHATTANOOGA,Tenn – A network of community partners working to completely bridge the digital divide for Hamilton County students came together to thank state leaders for dedicating more than $3 million in Tennessee Community CARES funding toward the effort to help students during the pandemic.

The new funding helps advance several carefully coordinated initiatives by more than a dozen public-private partners. Hamilton County Schools serves as the hub for reaching the goal of providing all students with internet access – along with the devices needed to learn online. This project is funded under a grant with the State of Tennessee, created to help communities solve obstacles the pandemic has caused.

“We thank Gov. Bill Lee, the Tennessee Department of Human Services and all members of the Hamilton County Legislative delegation, especially our state senators, Sen. Bo Watson and Sen. Todd Gardenhire,” said Superintendent Bryan Johnson, Ed.D., Hamilton County Schools.

“Their support is a tremendous boost to our public-private initiative, which already includes Hamilton County and the City of Chattanooga along with nonprofits, business funders, and private foundations. The CARES funding is a huge step forward as we work together to bridge the digital divide for all Hamilton County students helping them to become future-ready and prepared for success after graduation.”

Through the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS), The Enterprise Center will receive about $1.5 million to help students continue their studies during the pandemic by providing fiber optic internet connectivity at home for some 28,000 Hamilton County School students – with no charge to families for up to 10 years through HCS EdConnect powered by EPB.

At the same time, Public Education Foundation (PEF) and the Chattanooga Chamber Foundation will use nearly $1.5 million in Tennessee Community CARES funding to provide about 3,200 Chromebooks and tablet devices to help close the device gap, allowing all students to learn from home as schools respond to COVID-19.

“We’re making a smart investment in infrastructure, equipment, and devices that will help our students continue to learn through the current crisis,” said Sen. Bo Watson. Watson served on Gov. Lee’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group and helped secure $24.6 million in Tennessee pandemic relief funds to support area nonprofits in providing a wide range of pandemic assistance to local people. The tremendous effort to bridge the digital divide speaks to an important priority.

“We’re also providing our community with durable assets, so we can continue to deliver the online access for learning these students will need for years to come,” Sen. Watson said.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire agreed, saying, “I’m heartened by the fact that our local public schools and their partners are working to bridge the digital divide in a comprehensive and continuing way. We are using funds in an intelligent and meaningful way that will really make a difference for the people we represent.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger leads Hamilton County in efforts to fund Hamilton County Schools. Those efforts include funding for student devices and the recent provision of $1.5 million to help build out HCS EdConnect internet connectivity to all student homes.

“These funds will go a long way to help us reach the goal of providing every HCS student with the online access they need,” Mayor Coppinger said.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke led the city in providing $1.5 million in support for HCS EdConnect. He said the Chattanooga area is leveraging its existing community-wide fiber optic network to make the project possible.

“Because EPB led the nation in building out Chattanooga’s fiber optic network to every home and business in the Chattanooga area long before the pandemic began, our community is able to respond much more comprehensively to the dramatic upsurge in need for broadband access,” Mayor Berke said.