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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Thurmond announces $1M award to close digital divide
February 15, 2021
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has announced the new “California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge,” a global competition that will award up to $1 million to the boldest, most revolutionary proposals to eliminate the digital divide and expand high-speed internet access to all Californians. Thurmond announced this challenge during the latest meeting of his Closing the Digital Divide Task Force, an ongoing initiative to close inequitable access to technology the state superintendent co-chairs with Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) chair of the Senate Education Committee.
As many as one million students still lack internet connectivity, and Thurmond’s new challenge is designed to inspire the public and private sector’s most ambitious innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs and creative problem-solvers to develop technology and strategic partnerships that will not only help learners right away but remove barriers to success long after the pandemic is over.
“For too long, profit has gotten in the way of providing the essential internet access our students and families need for success in school and in daily life,” Thurmond said, in a news release. “I want to commend our generous partners for stepping up to help infuse $1 million into the next big idea and innovation that could end up changing lives across California for generations.”
Thanks to a partnership with Genentech and the Genentech Foundation, General Motors and Dr. Gary K. Michelson, Founder and Co-Chair of Michelson Philanthropies and the Michelson 20MM Foundation, this competition will allow the innovative spirit to play a significant role in helping California end the digital divide.
Although many gains have been made to help students access internet connectivity and computing devices while in distance learning — hundreds of thousands of computers and hotspots have been secured for schools, and districts have spent more than $2 billion in CARES Act funding on technology — the harsh reality is that almost one-fifth of California’s students still cannot participate in remote learning. Whether caused by lack of infrastructure or lack of affordability, one thing is clear: California must take steps to ensure that every student has the opportunity to learn with equitable access to computing devices and connectivity.
“Now that we are almost one year into distance learning, we have clearly seen the difficulties faced by students, families, teachers and communities as many young learners have struggled to keep up with their studies on a screen. Every student in California deserves access to a quality education, whether they are learning remotely or in-person,” said Leyva. “As elected leaders, we continue to strive to close the digital divide and increase connectivity for all students, regardless of where they may live.”
The digital divide impacts students of color and low-income students at disproportionate rates.
  • 25 percent of African American students and their families do not have access to the internet and 13 percent do not have access to computers.
  • 21 percent of Hispanic or Latino students do not have access to the internet and 9 percent do not have access to computers.
  • 30 percent of American Indian students do not have access to the internet and 16 percent do not have access to computers.
  • 14 percent of White students do not have access to the internet and 7 percent do not have access to computers.
Without access to the internet, these students not only lack the ability to participate in distance learning during the pandemic, they also lack opportunities to complete homework, research and prepare for future career opportunities.
Got ideas? Any interested parties can email innovationchallenge@cde.ca.gov.
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