Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Computer Equity Efforts in Chicago

Charlotte Williams's picture

A couple months ago, I wrote about an NPR series on efforts by Chicago city and public schools to mitigate violence and vulnerability among low-income students. Yesterday, Edweek featured an article about a new Chicago city-initiative—spearheaded by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in a partnership with Comcast—to provide computers and internet services at dramatically-reduced prices for the families of low-income students. The goal is in part to combat the increasing educational achievement gap between students with and without computers – a gap that, if left unaddressed, will only increase and further disadvantage our most vulnerable students. In a press conference announcing the initiative, Emmanuel pointed to a map and showed areas where only 15-45% of households have internet service. Emmanuel said the program—called Under the Internet Essentials—is the first of its kind, and that Chicago will be the first city in the country to “deal comprehensively with the digital divide to make sure every child has a chance to compete in the 21st century economy.”

The program provides families of the city’s 330,000 free lunch qualifying students with $150 vouchers from Comcast to buy reduced-price computers coupled with broadband internet service for only $9.95 a month. These offerings continue for as long as each family has a student in the school system. The city and other community partners are going to spread the word about the program to eligible families before it begins in the fall.

The National PTA—an LFA member—endorses this effort. A PTA spokesman, James Martinez, lauded the program for helping to address this growing national problem of internet disparity, which exists in a context in which the internet is of increasing importance in schools and in life.

The article also highlights some valid concerns with the program—city schools need to  provide adequate internet training, and  problems will arise if Comcast decides to stop offering the service. I imagine the public schools will indeed put a renewed emphasis on computer/internet instruction with the start of this program, and the article says that Comcast has agreed to these terms for at least three years. In any case, the effort marks a significant strategy to mitigate inequity that is so detrimental to our schools and our nation.