Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently announced what the Wall Street Journal described as an ambitious plan to provide free broadband access to students in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. The hope, as the Journal said, is “that the public-private partnership can be a model for efforts to address digital equity issues elsewhere in the U.S.”
The Chicago Connect program will provide high-speed internet for underprivileged students by directly paying for internet service. The city expects the program will connect 100,000 students, giving them Internet at home for a minimum of four years.
You’ve probably read about other programs providing laptops to students but perhaps you’ve wondered what good that is with no internet access.
“Studies show that internet access is linked closely with socioeconomic factors such as poverty and racial demographics,” said the Wall Street Journal. “In Detroit, researchers at the University of Michigan found in 2019 that up to 70% of school-age children in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods can’t access the internet at home.”
Best of all, the city was able to cobble together a diverse coalition of private sector donors and philanthropists to pay for at least the first two years of the program.
It will be majority funded by philanthropic partners, including $7.5 million from Ken Griffin, $5 million from Crown Family Philanthropies, $2.5 million from the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund (through The Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago), $2 million from Illinois Tool Works, $1.5 million from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, $500,000 from The JPB Foundation and $250,000 from the Joyce Foundation. Also on the donation list was a $750,000 boost from President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. The donors will pay for the first two years of the program, while the school district will fund years three and four.
Kudos to them, too.