It’s time to address the inequities in access to education

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By Patrick Forrest

U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Worker and Family Ways and Means Committee, introduced the “Computer and Internet Access Equity Act,” on May 5, 2020.

A PEW Research Center study revealed that while 58 percent of U. S. 8th graders use a computer to complete their homework, low- and moderate-income and minority students use cell phones, public Wi-Fi or are unable to do their homework. The Pew Research Center study noted that 35 percent of U.S. teens use a cell phone, and 12 percent use public Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, 17 percent of U.S. teens are unable to complete their homework at all, with 25 percent of Black students and students with a household income of less than $30,000 leading the digital homework gap.

“If we could provide a tax credit, modeled after the earned income credit where individuals can get a $10,000 credit for computer equipment, internet connection, broadband connection,” Davis said in an interview with the Crusader. “Now this wouldn’t be money put in a person’s pocket that they could use for anything, only the technology and connections that would be a great asset. Quite frankly the cost stops becoming a cost and is more of an investment.”

The legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide for a $10,000 lifetime tax credit for low- and moderate-income individuals to purchase computers and direct the Federal Communications Commission to modify the requirements for the Lifeline program to provide increased support for broadband internet access service.

“Some of the Coronavirus responses are one-time decisions, like the $1,200 check,” Davis explained. “That was a one-time thing. If passed this would be something that would be perpetual.”

In Chicago, with public schools closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, CPS had estimated that 115,000 students needed access to computers that were to be given out by the district. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said the school district has already spent millions, with only 61,000 students being accommodated.

“If we try to take a blanket approach, like we have been doing, it is completely unsustainable,” Jackson said at a Chicago Board of Education meeting on Wednesday (May 6). “I would much rather have a realistic view of the students who cannot participate in remote learning because of connectivity issues, because of device issues, because of family conditions, because they don’t have the support to do this work. If we don’t set up a real system that allows us that visibility, we are just blowing in the wind.”

The Chicago Public Schools’ commitment to providing computers, while admirable, does not completely fill the need that Davis’ legislation targets.

The Chicago Public School system has 265,000 students who would qualify as economically disadvantaged, but the Chicago Public Schools are relying heavily on poverty data indicators by reviewing which students are receiving TANF, SNAP, and other benefits to determine who will qualify for the 100,000 computers.

As of March 2020, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Services reported that approximately 37 million people are receiving SNAP benefits. Of the 37 million SNAP participants, 44 percent of participants were under 18 years old and school age.

The U.S. Food and Nutrition Services also reports that 20 million young people are receiving free lunch in the nation’s schools. Also, in the United States, 72 million people under 18 are in poverty.

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