SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced Thursday 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 Senator Connie Leyva, (D-Chino), chair of the Senate Education Committee.
As many as one million students still lack internet connectivity, and the State Superintendent’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. “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 once and for all.
“Now is the time to call upon the brightest minds in the world, provide a platform for new ideas to overcome the digital divide, and make it obsolete,” said Michelson. “This effort will send a message that California is ready to greenlight the boldest proposals possible through an unprecedented competition to develop solutions that can help students right away. We are pleased to partner with the California Department of Education and its foundation to launch this ambitious challenge.”
“We’re so pleased to help provide critical support services for local schools during this period of great disruption,” said Kristin Campbell Reed, Executive Director, Corporate and Employee Giving at Genentech and The Genentech Foundation. “We are investing in California schools to create more equitable access to distance learning for low-income students that typically occur within the walls of our public schools.”
“Innovation propels us at General Motors, and we are proud to support the California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge to spark new, creative ideas to make technology accessible to students who need it most,” said Terry Rhadigan, Executive Director for Corporate Giving. “Education is fundamental to our future, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to work with State Superintendent Tony Thurmond to help make his vision of closing the digital divide a reality.”
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 rural and frontier infrastructure, or lack of urban 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. As elected leaders, we continue to strive to close the digital divide and increase connectivity for all students, regardless of where they may live. It is vital that we continue to minimize learning loss for all students, while also remain focused on children who have been disproportionately impacted during this pandemic,” said Senator Leyva.
The digital divide impacts our students of color and low-income students at disproportionate rates. The rate of students without a computing device are lower than those without internet access, nationwide figures show:
– 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 but were already unable to continue their education from home pre-COVID, hampering their ability to complete homework, research, and prepare for future career opportunities.
More details about the California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge will be announced soon, but any interested parties are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
During Tuesday’s meeting, participants also heard from state lawmakers who have proposed legislation to expand broadband access throughout California:
– Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry has introduced the Internet for All Act of 2021, AB 14, to prioritize the deployment of broadband infrastructure in California’s most vulnerable and unserved rural and urban communities.
– Senator Lena Gonzalez has introduced SB 4, The Broadband for All Act, which will secure continuous grant funding for communities based on their true internet need, promote deployment of high-speed, 100mbps broadband, and make it easier for local governments to apply for grants and finance their own infrastructure.
– Assemblymen Al Muratsuchi has introduced his California Broadband for All Bond Act, AB 34, a $10 billion general obligation bond measure to invest in efforts to provide funding for statewide broadband infrastructure and high-speed internet to close the digital divide for all Californians living and working in unserved and underserved communities.
You can view the archived meeting at on the CDE Facebook page.
The Digital Divide Task Force was established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and consists of members of the Legislature from both houses serving one purpose: to close the digital divide for California’s public school students, educators, and their families. This task force has been working with internet service providers, and other partners, to lift existing barriers that prevent all students from having internet connectivity.
The California Department of Education is a state agency led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. For more information, please visit the California Department of Education’s website.