A teacher’s guide: Low-cost internet and affordable laptops for students

A young teacher bends down to assist an elementary-age student sitting at a desk inside a classroom. They both look at a tablet smiling and pointing to the screen.
August 03, 2022 | Claire Hegstrom

According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, almost 60% of eighth-graders in the United States say they use a computer to complete their school work at home every day or almost every day. Yet when the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country, forcing teachers and students to adapt to remote eLearning, many children were impacted by what is known as the “digital divide.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines the digital divide as the gap between those who have affordable access, skills, and support to effectively engage online and those who do not. For school children, one way the divide manifests is a phenomenon known as the “homework gap.” During the pandemic, a reported 1 in 5 parents with children said their homework couldn’t be completed due to computer access or an unreliable internet connection.

Digital inequities faced by 20% of our population’s children aren’t new, but the pandemic has shed a light on just how prevalent these barriers are, and has even ignited political intervention to aid in bridging the gap.

Below are some resources that you, your students and their families may find helpful in the quest for internet connection. From cheaper laptops to reduced-price Wi-Fi, there are trusted sources for every student in need.

Finding reduced-price laptops and desktop computers

Whether your student could benefit from a tablet, Chromebook, laptop, or desktop computer, there are many organizations across the country that specialize in refurbishing digital devices. Many of these organizations exist to serve two important purposes: To help recycle used tech – keeping more waste out of landfills – and to place low-cost devices in homes impacted by the digital divide.

For instance, PCs for People is a nationwide digital inclusion organization that collects retired computers and laptops from government agencies, local corporations, schools, and other organizations. They then data sanitize and refurbish the devices, and distribute them to families across the country at in-person events and through PCs for People’s online store. Prices for new devices start at just $75. Affordable Connectivity Program device discounts – described below – can be applied to these refurbished devices as well!

EveryoneOn, another national digital inclusion organization, has created an Offer Locator Tool, a national database of low-cost internet programs and affordable devices. By simply entering a zip code, you’re supplied with a list of affordable laptops available in your area, as well as reduced-cost internet service plans available in that region.

They even offer a free “Digital Citizenship Curriculum” through their educational resources partner so that your student can learn basic online safety and security skills.

Both organizations described above use the same qualifying guidelines outlined by the Affordable Connectivity Program below. Families who wish to purchase devices must be currently participating in a government-based assistance program or have a qualifying household income – earning at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines.

Because documentation must be uploaded online, via email, or by fax, it may be helpful – after a trusted relationship is formed with the student’s family – to assist in this proof of eligibility process.

Connecting households to low-cost internet options

Helping your student find a budget-friendly laptop, tablet, or desktop computer is only helpful if they have internet to connect that device to once they bring it home. One Pew Research survey shows that nearly 15% of households with school-aged children lack access to high-speed internet. Households with children, making less than $30,000 a year, experience the digital divide at even greater rates, with 35% lacking a broadband connection.

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a government subsidy program that offers monthly discounts on internet service and a one-time discount on an internet-connected device. This program can be especially useful to students and families in rural areas where higher internet speeds are required, often leading to pricier monthly bills.

These ACP benefits are limited to one discount and one device per eligible household:

  • $30 off broadband services for non-tribal households
  • $75 off broadband services for tribal households
  • $100 stipend for broadband connected devices

If your student’s family meets any one of the following requirements, they are encouraged to apply.

  • At or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines
  • Participate in SNAP, WIC, SSI, Lifeline or Medicaid
  • Children participate in free or reduced-price lunch program at school
  • Reside on tribal lands participating in the program
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during this award year

If you are assisting a family who qualifies through the free or reduced-price lunch program, please note that community eligibility provision (CEP) school documentation submitted must include the following:

  • Name of the student enrolled,
  • School year for which they are enrolled,
  • Name and address of the school, and
  • Contact information for that school to validate the proof of enrollment at a CEP school

Some report cards do not include complete contact information for the school – such as the school’s address or email. If the student’s report card alone doesn't contain this information, applicants may need to include additional documentation with the school's contact info.

Bear in mind, many parents may not be comfortable applying for ACP themselves, as they may be lacking the digital skills to do so. If you or a colleague have built a trusted relationship with the student’s family, you may offer to help them fill out the online application – it will only take a few minutes!

Assisting students and their families in finding affordably priced internet services and digital devices will not only help them complete their homework, but it’ll also aid in boosting their digital knowledge inside the classroom as well!

Digital equity grants for your classroom

If your classroom is in need of funding for digital devices or digital skills training, the Alliant Credit Union Foundation may be able to help. The Foundation has a vision to provide reliable broadband, digital literacy resources and technology equipment for underserved communities through investments with strategic, charitable partners.

Grant applications are accepted throughout the year and eligible 501(c)(3) organizations are invited to apply.


Looking for more information on digital inclusion? Read these blog posts:

Claire Hegstrom is a social impact strategist and digital equity advocate passionate about connecting communities. Focused on supporting financial wellness and independence, they approach educational conversations from a candid and inclusive space centered in growth and awareness. Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will give you the resources to help you thrive in every avenue of life.

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