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A group of Minnesota businesses and nonprofit organizations is raising money to ensure that all Minnesota students have the equipment and internet access for distance learning, should schools need to go online again in the next school year.

The Partnership for a Connected MN, a group led by members from Best Buy, Comcast, the Blandin Foundation, St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, has raised $1.6 million so far. The effort was announced Tuesday by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan, whose offices are working with the private members of the partnership.

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In a news release, Walz said he's grateful to see Minnesota businesses working toward the goal of making sure all students have the devices and internet access they need before the school year begins. The partnership is particularly focused on groups that have lacked those tools, including Indigenous students and students of color, low-income students, and those in rural parts of the state. The Minnesota Department of Education estimates that at least 25,000 students in the state don't have the equipment or internet access they need for distance learning — a model schools may have to start in or shift to in the 2020-21 school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We need to work together — as individuals, state agencies, private companies, and schools — to face the opportunity gap and make sure that Minnesota is the best state for each and every child to grow up and receive the best education possible," he said.

In addition to financial donations, some companies and organizations have pledged to pitch in equipment, like laptops and wireless hot spots, or offer technical support.

Money will be distributed through an application process that will open later in July. State government will not be involved in fundraising, according to the governor's office.

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790