Pittsburgh Gets Real

State bill would give low-income students access to technology, materials for virtual learning

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A bill in Harrisburg could soon give low-income students access to technology and education materials to help with virtual learning.

The House Education Committee is expected to vote on HB-2696, which would give each student eligible for free or reduced meals $1,000 to spend on education materials.

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The money would come from federal funding through the CARES Act.

Legislative sources say the bill was supposed to be voted on in committee Thursday, but the chamber was closed after a House member tested positive for COVID-19.

Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, issued a statement saying he began to feel sick on Wednesday and got the positive test result Thursday. He then notified House officials. He was most recently in the Capitol on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh Public Schools distributed devices like laptops and iPads to every student so they could be prepared for virtual learning, which will continue through at least October.

But studies show the education those students are getting hinges on technology, creating a situation where lower-income students can fall behind rapidly. That’s where HB-2696 comes in.

“Every school district is doing it a little bit different. That means the situation that these parents are in to educate their kids is different. This provides them the flexibility to do just that," said Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Ellwood City).

Bernstine is a co-sponsor on the bill, and he said it’s designed to give families flexibility so they can determine what is needed to help their children learn.

It’s unclear when the vote will be rescheduled for, but Bernstine told Channel 11 it has bipartisan support.