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(MUNCIE, Ind.) — A Ball State study estimates at least 68,000 Indiana school kids don’t have Internet access at home.

The Census Bureau says one in five Indiana households lacks Internet access. Ball State economist

Michael Hicks says most of them don’t have kids. But he estimates one in 15 do. The total could be as

high as 84,000, or one in 13.

Hicks says the heaviest concentrations of unwired students are in Indianapolis and in rural areas, in the counties surrounding Terre Haute and in northeast and southeast Indiana. He says parts of northwest Indiana, like Gary and Michigan City, are close behind.

Unsurprisingly, the study finds low-income families and single-parent households are least likely to have Internet access. And Hicks says while the study didn’t quantify it, there are probably three times as many students whose connections are too weak to support learning tools like assignment downloads or Zoom classrooms.

Because of the pandemic, many school districts are either starting the year online or using a hybrid of online and in-person classes. Hicks warns students without connectivity are starting out behind because of learning time they lost when the pandemic halted the last school year. Hicks says it’ll take a community effort to keep them from losing more if school goes online again.

Hicks notes Ball State cranked up the wi-fi in its buildings so people could get access in university parking lots over the summer. He says communities need to think outside the box, perhaps by retrofitting vacant warehouses or big-box stores as socially distanced classrooms.

Governor Holcomb announced a $61.6 million grant fund last month to help schools get devices and

connections to students who don’t have them.