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Dalio Philanthropies Announces Return To Addressing Students’ Digital Divide

Barbara Dalio makes a point at second meeting of the Partnership for Connecticut in December.
Kathleen Megan
Barbara Dalio makes a point at second meeting of the Partnership for Connecticut in December.

Two months after abandoning its private-public education partnership with the state, hedge fund giant Ray Dalio’s philanthropic group Dalio Education announced Monday that it would work with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to give another shot at ensuring students across the state have access to computers and internet connectivity.

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After students were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the last three months of school, 50,000 students – about one out of every 11 students – were in need of a computer or other device, and nearly 29,000 students didn’t have adequate internet access, according to a state survey of districts in mid-May. Barbara Dalio, director of Dalio Education, said that as many as 40% of students across the state may lack sufficient connectivity to fully engage in online schooling.

Andrew Ferguson, chief education officer for Dalio Education, said that the organization commissioned a report by technology consultant John Horrigan, who authored a report on Baltimore’s digital divide last year. Set to be completed by Labor Day, the report will survey the breadth of the digital divide problem in Connecticut and provide recommendations for addressing it, he said.

In the meantime, Ferguson said, Dalio Education will announce plans in the coming days and weeks for individual, local “creative collaborations” between mayors and community leaders to start addressing access at the local level.

“This digital divide is bigger than any one philanthropy, any one CCM, any one mayor, any one state official,” Ferguson said. “Rather, it requires all of us to work together.”

He said that the Dalios’ financial support for these collaborations would take the form of “matching funds” from other funders, including cities, in unspecified amounts. 

The announcement that the Dalios plan to re-engage with the issue comes just months after the messy dissolution of their partnership with the state, which originally promised last year that each party would contribute $20 million annually for five years to invest in low-performing school districts. A slew of issues contributed to the Dalio-initiated collapse of the partnership in May, including criticism for the partnership’s lack of transparency from the start, Dalio’s mistrust of lawmakers who objected to its lack of transparency, and Dalio representatives’ sudden attempt to force out the partnership’s executive director near the end.

In the end, the former partnership spent only $25 million and collectively purchased over 50,000 laptops for students, of which 46,000 have already been delivered. The remaining 7,000 are being delivered this week, said Peter Yazbak, director of communications at the state Department of Education.

Dalio said that the current effort isn’t a continuation of the failed partnership, but rather is simply “continuing to work in collaboration” and “bringing together all the players, the state, the philanthropy, the community, everybody to really find the solutions.”

“We share this common vision and common goal of getting this done, so whatever bumps happened in the past or along the way, that’s not something we’re going to focus on,” said Joe DeLong, executive director and CEO of CCM.

DeLong said that CCM’s role will include providing research and data, as well as facilitating the connections and collaborations with municipal leaders. He stressed that the collaboration will not be an exclusive partnership, but a “joint effort towards a like-minded goal.”

Ferguson said that “Congress, the FCC, the state of Connecticut” all must act in order to “create systemic improvements to close the divide.”

“But we should not wait for that action,” he said. “Rather, there’s a lot that municipal leaders can do today by working collaboratively with their communities to help take concrete steps to close it.”

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