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New Jersey’s Digital Divide in Districts with State-Funded Pre-K

Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to close their doors and shift from in-person instruction to remote or hybrid instruction for pre-K-12th grade students. This shift brought to light the number of students without access to a computer (or similar device), the internet, or both, which is commonly referred to as the “digital divide.” As of November 11th, only 11% of school districts[1] were operating entirely in-person while the rest included at least some aspect of remote learning, yet 35,011 pre-K-12th grade students[2] were left without access to a device and/or the internet connectivity to participate in remote learning activities.

Access to high-quality preschool has been shown to produce positive child outcomes, which allow for greater academic success in the primary grades and beyond. How do our youngest students fare in the digital divide? In November, 92% of districts with state-funded pre-K programs[3] reported utilizing some form of remote learning. Half of them reported students in need of a device, internet connectivity, or both. Among the Former Abbott Districts, which includes many of the lowest income districts in the state, 74% reported students in need of resources to access remote learning. Phillipsburg reported only two students who needed both a device and internet connectivity, while East Orange reported 5,581 students without access to the internet and 924 students in need of a device.

Data collected by the New Jersey Department of Education demonstrated significant decreases in the digital divide between the Spring of 2020 and November, due at least in part to the state’s $60 million investment using CARES Act funds.[4] Additional progress was made in December and by January 6th fewer than 8,000 students remained without access to a device or the internet. However, the Former Abbott Districts still have the greatest number of students needing the digital resources for remote learning.

This number of children who lacked access through November as well as the smaller number who continue to lack access raises concerns about the education of the nearly 90% of children enrolled in pre-K who live in an Abbott district.[5] High-quality preschool education provides crucial opportunities for children to engage in early learning activities leading to positive child outcomes, but the COVID-19 pandemic has severely limited these in-person activities.[6] Nearly a year into the pandemic, one would hope that access to remote learning opportunities would be available to all students. Action is still urgently needed to close the digital divide and to address the earlier learning losses of children who only recently obtained access, especially in the state’s lowest income districts.

The Authors

Kate is an Early Childhood Education Policy Specialist at NIEER, where she primarily focuses on state and national policy analysis. Her current work includes collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data for the annual State of Preschool Yearbook report, providing technical assistance to New Jersey school districts and private providers applying for and implementing the state-funded preschool program, among other projects.


The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, conducts and disseminates independent research and analysis to inform early childhood education policy.

Suggested Citation

[1] O’Dea, C. & Mooney, J. (2020, November 24). See which side of the ‘digital divide’ your school district is on. Retrieved from https://www.njspotlight.com/2020/11/see-what-side-of-the-digital-divide-your-school-district-is-on/

[2] New Jersey Department of Education. (n.d.). Digital divide and 2020 NJDOE technology data collections. Retrieved on December 3, 2020 from https://www.nj.gov/education/grants/digitaldivide/techsurveys.shtml

[3] Note: Data were not available for Lake Como School District in Monmouth County and the Newark Educators Community Charter School in Essex County.

[4] New Jersey Department of Education. (n.d.).  June 2002 digital divide survey summary. Retrieved from https://www.nj.gov/education/grants/digitaldivide/techsurveysjune2020.shtml

[5] Friedman-Krauss, A. H., Barnett, W. S., Garver, K. A., Hodges, K. S., Weisenfeld, G. G. & Gardiner, B. A. (2020). The State of Preschool 2019: State Preschool Yearbook. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.

[6] Barnett, S. & Jung, K. (2020, August). Understanding and responding to the pandemic’s impacts on preschool education: What can we learn from last spring? Retrieved from https://nieer.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/NIEER_Special-Report_July_2020_What_Can_We_Learn_From_Last_Spring_UPDATED_August_2020.pdf