Colorado Education Leaders Pushing Congress For Funding

DENVER (CBS4) – As families across Colorado decide whether they’ll send their children back to school for in-person learning, education leaders are asking the U.S. Senate funding in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill. It would go toward laptops and high-speed internet for students.

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Denver Public Schools, Colorado Education Initiative and the Colorado Workforce Development Council held a virtual press briefing on Wednesday to discuss the benefits stimulus finding would have on the state’s digital divide.

“As the economic impact of this pandemic have gone on, families haven’t been able to entirely prioritize the cost of Internet even when it’s low,” explained Rebecca Holmes, CEO of the Colorado Education Initiative.

Holmes said a survey this past spring found around 54,000 students in the state didn’t have a laptop or desktop at home. Right now, she estimates about 10 to 12% of students in Colorado are still unable to access the learning their schools will provide them with next fall.

Denver Public Schools is one district in the state that has offered students the chance to pick up technology needed for at-home learning.

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“At this point we do have enough devices for all of our students, and we’re going to work really hard to make sure that everyone who needs a device has one,” explained Susana Cordova, the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

Arleth Flores was a senior at Bruce Randolph High School when schools closed due to the coronavirus, and turned to remote learning. She told CBS4, she tried to remain positive about the sudden change, until she continued to have issues with unreliable internet at home.

“All I did was cry,” Flores said. “Most of my emails wouldn’t go through, my assignments wouldn’t turn it on time, and I would just get so frustrated that I didn’t want to do it any more.”

Flores said she was using a hotspot in her phone, but the connection was weak and she was only allowed to use so much data a month. When her grades started to suffer because she couldn’t connect with teachers or turn in assignments, she became concerned.

“That was just as huge wake up call like, ‘hey you need to do something about your internet or else this is how you’re going to end the school year,’” she said.

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The push to increase funding into bills for laptops and high-speed internet is for students like her. Cordova said both, should be treated as a utility for our students.

“Just like Denver Water, just like trash pickup, it should be open and available to all of our families,” Cordova said. “At this point we believe we’re probably about 93% of our families have reliable Internet in their house. We want to close that gap to make sure it’s at 100%.”

In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, including $1.5 billion for schools and libraries to purchase devices such as tablets, laptops for WiFi hotspots for students. The push locally, is to encourage the U.S. Senate to increase related funding to $4 billion, to help close the digital divide.