America’s schools are a trusted lifeline. They provide essential updates on public health and emergency measures; connections to crucial social services and local resources; and, now, the distance learning that students need to stay on track amid widespread school closures due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. It is unclear how long schools will remain closed, but they must continue to be a stabilizing force until this crisis is over.
Across our membership, there is a pressing need for technology and internet access to ensure students and families can stay connected to their school communities. This week, we awarded $300,000 in funding—the first grants from our COVID-19 Relief Fund—to three systems led by members and/or alumni of our Future Chiefs leadership development program. Specifically, the grants will help Indianapolis Public Schools in Indiana, Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island, and Guilford County Schools in North Carolina purchase WiFi hotspots. In Guilford County, the hotspots will be installed on school buses that can be parked in neighborhoods where many families lack internet access, so children nearby can get online.
In addition, this week, we called on the White House and telecommunications companies to remove obstacles that prevent students from learning while they are away from school. Our CEO, Mike Magee, raised the issue on a call with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. We also sent letters to Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and America’s largest telecommunications companies.
Just got off call w/ @VP and @BetsyDeVosED that included several orgs. @chiefsforchange had very practical ask: that administration have @AjitPaiFCC remove obstacles to families signing up for free Wi-Fi: e.g. inability to sign up if there’s an outstanding balance on old account.
— Michael Magee (@mcmageejr) March 25, 2020
More than 500 such companies have signed the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. These companies have committed, for the next 60 days, to waive late fees and maintain service for customers who face financial hardship due to the pandemic. They are also opening WiFi hotspots to those who need them. These are helpful steps. There is, however, another important and related issue: Companies often require individuals to pay off an outstanding balance on their account in order to reconnect to the internet. This creates an obstacle to learning for students in our members’ systems. Even in instances where schools can provide devices to their students, many children are unable to use that technology because they can’t get online.
Our letter to Chairman Pai asks the FCC to amend its pledge and urge companies to make the additional commitment to waive policies that require people to pay off any outstanding balance in order to restore their internet service. Our letter to telecommunications companies implores them to immediately suspend all policies that keep families with school-age children from obtaining service in the midst of this national emergency. Schools must now teach their students online. Education leaders need help to make that possible.
About Chiefs for Change
Chiefs for Change is a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s through deeply committed leadership. Chiefs for Change advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference today for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.