After a school year of hybrid, virtual, and unconventional instruction, students in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System will have a chance to receive free tablets and lower internet costs this school year, according to BRProud.
With the influx of technology in classrooms across the country, more and more students become reliant on computers, tablets, and smart devices to ensure equitable education. Educational technology has been called a spectacular “equalizer” in regards to all students regardless of socioeconomic background having equitable access to the same learning materials- as long as all students are in the same learning environment, namely a school.
This equitable education begins to become less attainable when students are kept out of the classroom as they are in the summer months, contributing to learning gaps the following school year. Though the learning disparities had never before become more obvious in Louisiana than when schools closed or adapted to hybrid or virtual instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly students living at homes without internet or reliable devices on which to access the internet were kept out of the virtual classroom in addition to the physical one.
This lack of access to reliable internet and technology in Louisiana’s more underserved communities is seen by many as a crisis, but a new program has been implemented in East Baton Rouge Parish that has parents applying for free tablets and reduced internet costs thanks to federal funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The “Lifeline Program” has been offered by Phoenix Marketing since 1985 to low-income consumers who seek out a discount on phone services. Lifeline is part of the Universal Service Fund, an FCC initiative that connects Americans with telecommunications companies. According to the FCC’s webpage explaining the facets of Universal Service, “today, the FCC recognizes high-speed Internet as the 21st Century’s essential communications technology, and is working to make broadband as ubiquitous as voice, while continuing to support voice service.”
This recognition by the federal government that internet access is an essential resource in modern society has contributed to the funding of Phoenix Marketing’s new program that brings internet service (provided by Earthlink) to qualifying applicants. Any parents or guardians of a student in an East Baton Rouge Parish school who qualify for Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Section 8, Veteran’s Pension, or a specific income level threshold can qualify to be a recipient of either subsidized internet services or a free tablet.
Applicants can qualify if they have current, active participation in any of the above-listed government benefit programs or if their total household reported income meets Federal Poverty Guidelines. Internet services provided as a part of the Lifeline Emergency Broadband Benefit include unlimited talk time, unlimited texting, and 10GB of data a month for just $8.90.
CEO of Phoenix Marketing, Marcel Miner commented on the ease of the application and acceptance process saying, “once we’ve verified that they’ve qualified, then we go into Earthlink’s tool and we process the order and put their emergency broadband discount on that.”
Calvin Mills is the CEO and Founder of SLT Technology in Baton Rouge; SLT is a workforce development firm that provides Louisiana citizens with technology and certified training to advance their careers and businesses. Mills pledged additional support to East Baton Rouge Schools by announcing their efforts to offer IT certifications to students in the EBR school system and provide a pathway into cybersecurity careers to students who would otherwise be not college-bound.
This investment in the future of Louisiana education and workforce was commented on by Mills who said, “our state wants to put people to work; they want people to find careers that are sustainable for them, cybersecurity pays upwards of six figures.”
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