Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Tens of millions of students across the U.S. risk falling farther behind this fall as schools struggle to secure the technology needed to effectively teach online.

The state of play: Many schools across the country ordered child-friendly technology like Lenovo Chromebooks in the spring to continue classes virtually in the fall. But, order backlogs are pushing some arrival dates to as late as October.

Driving the news: The world's three biggest computer companies, Lenovo, HP and Dell, said they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops, per AP.

  • Experts credit their manufacturing and distribution slowdowns in China to virus-related disruptions, trade agreements with the U.S. and sanctions for alleged human rights abuses.
  • “Keeping students learning is our top priority and we are treating every school and school district with urgency. The pandemic and shift to remote learning has increased the need for devices, and we are working hard to help schools get computers in the hands of students as quickly as possible,“ an HP spokesperson tells Axios.

The big picture: The shortages have schools scrambling to adapt to what students may have on hand. But lesson plans may not be as effective on mobile devices, and laptops in retail stores lack compatible software.

  • In Cleveland, Hewlett-Packard was unable to deliver the 9,000 laptops it promised by Sept. 8 — their first day of classes — because the demand was 10 times higher than expected.
  • Denver Public Schools had to begin classes on Aug. 26 short of about 3,000 devices. The district, like many, is waiting for the 12,500 laptops it ordered in April and May.
  • Bozeman, Mont., schools used federal coronavirus funding for broadband and device updates, but they're still expected to be short 1,300 devices by next week's reopening.
  • California's 1,100 districts are waiting on at least 300,000 back-ordered computers, said Mary Nicely, a senior policy adviser to the state superintendent.
  • Austin (Texas) Independent School District is asking families who aren't using their district-provided Chromebooks or iPads to return them if they have their own. As many as 10,000 students could be without laptops for remote learning, about 12.5%.
  • 60% of 32,500 parents in D.C. schools surveyed said they need a laptop at home; 27% said they didn’t have reliable internet.

Of note: For months, experts have warned that the pandemic and the remote learning it has forced upon students will only exacerbate the technology gap, partially because of a lack of remote learning supplies, per the Economic Policy Institute.

The bottom line: Most K-12 students in the U.S. will be taking classes virtually at some point this year, EdWeek reports. Even schools that planned ahead now have to find a way to keep their students from falling even further behind.

Go deeper

Oct 21, 2020 - Health

San Francisco public schools likely won't reopen before the end of the year

Fourth graders wash their hands at Bel Aire Elementary School on Oct. 16 in Tiburon, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

San Francisco public school officials do not anticipate bringing students back into the classroom before the end of the year, partially due to limited coronavirus testing capacity, the San Francisco Examiner reports.

The big picture: Schools that have reopened their doors in the U.S. generally have not experienced large coronavirus outbreaks, an early sign that they may not be the super-spreaders some experts had feared.

Pence to continue traveling despite aides testing positive for COVID-19

Marc Short with Pence in March. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday and is quarantining, according to a White House statement.

Why it matters: Short is Pence's closest aide, and was one of the most powerful forces on the White House coronavirus task force. Pence and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for the virus on Sunday morning, according to the vice president's office.

AOC: "Extremely important" that Biden offer Bernie Sanders a Cabinet position

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that she believes it's "extremely important" that Joe Biden offer Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressive leaders Cabinet positions if he's elected president.

The big picture: Ocasio-Cortez was pressed repeatedly on policy differences between her and the more moderate Biden, including her opposition to fracking and support for Medicare for All. She responded that it would be a "privilege" and a "luxury" to be able to lobby a Biden administration on progressive issues, insisting that the focus right now should be on winning the White House.