Back-to-school laptop shortage hits US schools

Shortages and long delays of laptops increase as distance education ramps up

The big picture: School is starting back up across the US with various in-classroom and remote solutions being pushed to adapt to the unique challenges of this school year. To meet the need of their students in a world with COVID-19, many school districts have run into problems finding enough laptops needed for distance learning.
The three largest laptop producers, Lenovo, HP and Dell, have told school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops. Exacerbated by multiple supply side issues, the companies are struggling to satisfy demand. Low-cost options, such as Chromebooks, are the most commonly sought after for school districts dealing with low budgets and are precisely the type of models that are most impacted by supply side disruptions.

According to Associated Press, the Trump Administration’s Commerce Department, “imposed sanctions on 11 Chinese companies, including the manufacturer of multiple models of Lenovo laptops.” The announcement stated the sanctions were targeted to companies that were implicated in forced labor or other human rights abuses against a Muslim minority population, the Uighurs.

In a letter to the Denver Public School district, which ordered 12,500 Chromebooks in May and June, Lenovo indicated these “trade controls” were adding to the delays in shipments and listed 23 models manufactured by Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co. Ltd. to shift production sites as a result of the sanctions.

With the pandemic pushing educational institutions to adapt quickly, educators find themselves in a frustrating place to be in. “This is going to be like asking an artist to paint a picture without paint. You can’t have a kid do distance learning without a computer,” said Tom Baumgarten, superintendent of the Morongo Unified School District in California’s Mojave Desert.

Tom Baumgarten’s order of 5,000 HP laptops was originally promised before the first day of school, but was pushed back to September and then October, leaving the district with half as many laptops as needed.

Many districts are starting up this week despite not having adequate resources and currently, the shortage has no end in sight.