Lincoln Day Dinner

Keynote speaker Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, talks to audience members during a past Region 7 Lincoln Day Dinner.

Idaho students who don’t currently have internet access may get some help soon thanks in part to Idaho National Laboratory and Qatar.

Idaho Business for Education, a coalition of business leaders who want to improve education in Idaho and in particular create a more skilled workforce and increase the number of young Idahoans with post-secondary degrees or certifications, announced last week more than $260,000 in contributions to an Internet for Students Emergency Fund.

IBE President and CEO Rod Gramer said the money “will help us provide connectivity to thousands of students across Idaho who don’t have internet service at home” and that the group would work with school districts before the next school year starts on ways to address the issue.

“Our goal is nothing short of ensuring that every student has a computer and internet service in their homes so they can learn remotely,” Gramer said. “This will bring true equity to the Idaho education system.”

IBE spokeswoman Leslie Barbour said the group wants to “close the divide” when it comes to remote learning.

“Money that we raise will be used to get students internet at home so they can actively participate in their education,” Barbour said. “Depending on what happens during phase two (“Close the Divide”) we may end up using some of the funds for computers. We hope to keep the fund active for the foreseeable future so we can continue filling gaps in education.”

The largest single donation was $100,000 from the country of Qatar, which was obtained with the assistance of U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Idaho Business for Education said in a news release.

Risch, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Qatari-U.S. relationship “is one marked by shared values and strong bilateral cooperation, whether it be in the security or economic sphere,” and lauded Qatar for the donation.

“All Idahoans have had their lives disrupted by COVID-19, including students and teachers in every corner of our state,” Risch said. “This donation from Qatar will play a vital role in helping our students and teachers stay connected as they continue learning and educating from home. On behalf of the people of Idaho, I send our gratitude to the people of Qatar.”

"The Qatari-U.S. relationship, for the past decade, transformed from a bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership, in various fields, such as defense, economic, culture and education," said Qatari U.S. Ambassador Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani. "Within this strategic partnership, Qatar has become one of the most reliable partners in the region. Qatar shares with Idaho and IBE a commitment to human potential, working to create resilient, knowledge-based economies with an emphasis on education, openness, and opportunity for all. We are pleased to offer our support to give parents, students, and teachers the tools they need to close the digital divide and offer high-quality education at home during this unprecedented time."

Idaho Business for Education also highlighted numerous contributions from its members, including $75,000 from the Micron Foundation, $25,000 from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation and $20,000 from Idaho National Laboratory.

“All of us have an obligation to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn and grow through education,” said INL Director Mark Peters, who is also a member of the IBE Board of Directors. “With school buildings closed, it is vital that students have internet access. INL is proud to contribute to this important initiative and be part of a coalition focused on ensuring that no Idaho student gets left behind.”

People who wish to donate can visit tinyurl.com/Idaho-Internet.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.