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DC mayor launches $3.3M initiative to provide low-income students with free internet access

DC mayor launches $3.3M initiative to provide low-income students with free internet access
© Bonnie Cash

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserTrump changes election night plans, cancels party at Trump International: report Trump campaign eyes election night party at his sold-out DC hotel Travel industry calls on Trump administration to prevent the need for quarantines by creating a testing plan MORE (D) is launching a $3.3 million initiative to provide low-income students with free internet access as local public schools embrace virtual learning for the start of the school year amid the ongoing pandemic. 

“During this virtual school term, we know how critical it is for all of our students to have internet access to successfully learn at home and stay connected to their teachers outside of the classroom,” Bowser said in a statement this week. 

“This investment continues our commitment not only to supporting families during virtual school term, but also to building a more digitally-inclusive DC in the long-term,” she continued.

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The effort, dubbed the Internet for All initiative, aims to provide up to 25,000 low-income families with students in D.C Public Schools and public charter schools with free internet access. Bowser’s office said the funding “will cover [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] eligible families for the 2020-2021 School Year.”

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which allocated funding for the effort, will be partnering with the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) for the initiative. The OCTO is coordinating the effort and is handling outreach to families eligible for the program. 

The OCTO will be connecting the families with Comcast and RCN through programs both companies offer aimed at helping low-income families gain internet access.

Over the past month, scores of schools, including those in D.C., have transitioned to virtual learning as they resume classes, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But that nationwide transition has posed its own set of difficulties for some low-income households that say internet access is too expensive. Cost was listed as one of the main reasons why children between the ages of 3 and 18 years old were without internet access in 2017, according to data cited by the National Center for Education Statistics in a recent report

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That report also included data that found the percentage of children the same ages who had access to internet at home also varied when it comes to race and ethnicity.

"For instance, in 2018, the percentage with home internet access was highest for those who were Asian (98 percent) and lowest for those who were American Indian/Alaska Native (80 percent)," the report stated. "In addition, the percentages with home internet access were higher for those who were of Two or more races (97 percent) and White (96 percent) than for those who were Hispanic (91 percent), Black (90 percent), and Pacific Islander (87 percent)."

D.C. Chief Technology Officer Lindsey Parker said in a statement that the pandemic “amplified the need for bridging the digital divide” in the nation’s capital.

“As schools begin classes online, students without regular access to the internet are at a severe disadvantage," she said. "The Bowser Administration is committed to work with our partners and our community to break this cycle and create a fair shot for everyone in DC."