May 5, 2020
State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and Digital Divide Task Force Continue to Advocate for Students Who Lack Access
SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and state leaders called representatives from major technology and internet service provider companies to appear at yesterday’s Closing the Digital Divide Task Force meeting to discuss the persistent technology gaps impacting the state’s most vulnerable students. Hundreds of thousands of students in schools throughout the state are still without the necessary devices and internet access needed to participate in distance learning along with their peers.
The full video archive of the meeting can be found on the CDE Facebook web page.
The task force, co-chaired by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), has asked that internet service providers offer free guest access to all California students. During Monday’s hearing, executives from AT&T, Comcast, Cox Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon were asked to provide more details on their efforts to bring connectivity into the homes of students from low-income and rural communities, including providing services for free or at low cost.
The companies also were asked to serve on a subcommittee that will explore targeted strategies based on specific levels of expertise.
“We can’t assist our students at the level they need without help from all partners,” said Thurmond. “The digital inequities that this pandemic has brought to light for students who are economically challenged and students living in rural communities have to be fixed. Our students and families deserve a greater investment to ensure they have a level playing field to succeed not only during this pandemic but moving forward. We have a long way to go to ensure that all of the students in this state have the resources they need to thrive academically, but through cross-sector partnerships, we can make a difference in the lives of our students and close the digital gap.”
“As we continue our work to help close the digital divide and strengthen distance learning in California, the task force remains committed to creating solutions and ultimately helping improve internet access for students,” said Leyva. “Now that we are over a month into this new distance learning reality for students and educators alike, lack of access and connectivity for students across our state must be addressed—and soon. I appreciate the partnerships that we have already developed with internet service providers and other stakeholders but look forward to building on that cooperation to create lasting change for all California students that need and deserve reliable digital access to truly succeed.”
Under extensive questioning by the State Superintendent and task force members, internet service provider company representatives offered explanations of ways they say they are supporting households in need, including extending the length of programs that provide service for free or at a discount, offering free public Wi-Fi hotspots to non-customers in some locations, and promoting other special offers.
Task force members also heard from and recognized a variety of tech companies that have either directly pledged or financed commitments of tens of thousands of devices and hotspots. Although a small number of California companies are responding to the request for support, tremendous need persists: the number of devices estimated to be needed has increased to more than 400,000, and the need for connectivity now exceeds 300,000 since the task force’s first meeting on April 20, according to a recent review of need assessment surveys submitted by local educational agencies to the California Department of Education (CDE).
In an effort to accelerate donations, the CDE and task force members have begun writing letters to California’s largest companies to request contributions of devices or donations to purchase devices. Additionally, the CDE has partnered with the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation (CDE Foundation), the private nonprofit partner of the CDE since 2011, to create the California Bridging the Digital Divide Fund (CBDD). The fund is a joint effort of the Governor’s Office, the State Board of Education, the CDE, and the CDE Foundation. Individual donations may be made at the CBDD Fund web page, and corporate and institutional donors may email firstname.lastname@example.org.Joining State Superintendent Thurmond and Senator Leyva on the task force are Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Assemblymember Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa).
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Tony Thurmond —
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100