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Amazon says it's donating 8,200 laptops to Seattle public school students

Aaron Yoo

Amazon said it’s donating 8,200 laptops to students in the Seattle school district to help close the technology gap that’s made it difficult for some students to continue their learning while schools are shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The donation is valued at about $2 million. The machines will be given to students to keep, and the school district said it’s prioritizing giving them to elementary students who lack access to a device at home.

School districts across the state – and the country – have been grappling with how to shift a system built on in-person instruction to one that can function remotely. The rapid transition has highlighted gaps between some districts that have enough devices for every student and others that don’t. The Los Angeles Unified School District has said it will buy as many as 200,000 laptops or tablet computers, as well as Wi-Fi hotspots, to the tune of $100 million dollars – some of which may come from district bond funds.

Amazon already had partnered with the nonprofit group, Alliance for Education, to provide money to cover emergency needs of the families of Seattle public school students. The company created the Right Now Needs Fund in 2018 to help families facing trouble paying for basic needs, including rent, clothing and food. Amazon started that fund with $2 million, and later added $250,000 for summer programming last year and an additional $150,000 to help families struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Petaki Cobell is with the Alliance for Education, and serves as director of the Right Now Needs Fund. She said principals have been distributing more money from the fund since the outbreak began to help families cover emergency needs such as food, rent or utility bills.

“There’s been a huge increase just in schools accessing the funds,” Cobell said.

She said she and Seattle school principals are working to get gift cards to families, which is a little more challenging because of the governor’s stay-at-home order.

“Sometimes it’s by mail. Sometimes it’s physical pickup,” she said. “So we’re trying everything to make sure the help and assistance from the Right Now Needs Fund does not stop.”

Amazon, the Alliance for Education and Seattle Public Schools said the company’s donation is helping to establish a new fund, called the Education Equity Fund, that will help provide technology and resources to students most in need.

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In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.