SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on Tuesday will kick off a 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.
As many one million students still lack internet connectivity, and the State Superintendent’s new challenge is designed to inspire the public and private sectors’ 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.
“I believe the next great ideas are already out there—living on the drawing boards of research teams or in the homes of aspiring entrepreneurs—and are just waiting for an infusion of resources to make them reality. I believe the California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge can be a game-changer for solving a problem that has plagued underserved communities for decades,” Thurmond said. “If we truly want to ensure all students have access to the technology and tools that not only help them access their learning remotely—but will be needed for success the rest of their lives—we cannot rest until the internet flows into households like electricity.”
Thanks to a partnership with Genentech, GM Motors, and 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.
Although many efforts have been made to help students gain internet connectivity and computing devices while in distance learning, the harsh reality is that almost one-fifth of California’s students still cannot participate in distance learning. Whether caused by lack of rural and frontier infrastructure or lack of urban affordability, one thing is clear: Every student deserves the opportunity to learn with equitable access to computing devices and connectivity.
The digital divide affects our students of color and low-income students at disproportionate rates. The rates of students without a computing device are lower than those without internet access, for example:
- 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.
More details will be announced at the State Superintendent’s next Digital Divide Task Force meeting tomorrow, February 2, at 10 a.m., which will be broadcast on Facebook Live at https://facebook.com/CAEducation.
The Digital Divide Task Force, co-chaired by Superintendent Thurmond and Senator Connie Levya, was established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and consists of members of the Legislature from both branches 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.
During Tuesday’s hearing, participants will also hear from state lawmakers who have proposed legislation to expand broadband access throughout California.
February 2, 2021
Where to Watch
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. You may also follow Superintendent Thurmond on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.