Lightfoot expands year-old program to bridge digital divide for CPS students

Chicago public high school graduates would be guaranteed an additional three months of free high-speed internet service – and those who attended City Colleges would get the benefit for up to three years – thanks to the expansion of a groundbreaking partially funded program by Illinois’ richest man.

Almost a year ago to the day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot turned to hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin and some of Chicago’s most powerful philanthropic organizations to help bridge the digital divide that holds students back and their parents in the poorer neighborhoods of the South Side and West Side. .

Griffin has agreed to contribute $ 7.5 million to help fund the first half of a four-year program known as “Chicago Connected.”

Other major donors included: Crown Family Philanthropies ($ 5 million); the Chicago Community COVID Response Fund, administered by the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago ($ 2.5 million); Illinois Tool Works ($ 2 million); the Pritzker Traubert Foundation ($ 1.5 million); the JPB Foundation ($ 500,000); and the Joyce Foundation ($ 250,000).

Another pledge of $ 750,000 was made by former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; and the Chicago Community Trust at the Children’s First Fund, the philanthropic arm of CPS.

City Hall has pledged to complete the first two years of funding by contributing $ 5 million to federal coronavirus stimulus funds. CPS agreed to fund the third and fourth years.

At the time, Lightfoot predicted that the $ 50 million program would provide free high-speed Internet access to approximately 100,000 CPS students over a four-year period.

Instead, “Chicago Connected” reached 64,000 students in 42,000 homes – still enough to close “nearly two-thirds” of the digital divide, according to City Hall.

The proposed expansion aims to do even more.

• Internet service for CPS high school graduates continues through October 31 instead of ending Tuesday, the last day of school.

• Senior graduates attending City Colleges this fall will receive free internet service for up to three years or until they graduate from City Colleges, whichever comes first. The mayor’s office called this “the first step in extending Chicago Connected to students at public universities.”

• Chicago Connected participants will now be able to learn testing and computer skills, thanks to a new digital learning platform that includes free access to online portals with in-class programs, training materials and thousands of reviews.

As the coronavirus pandemic forced the CPS to shut down, one in five Chicago children did not have access to a reliable internet at home, according to an April 2020 study published by Kids First Chicago. One in three CPS students have started distance learning without a computer.

The distribution of Chromebooks, funded by federal stimulus funds and other emergency spending, has largely eliminated this problem, but many homes still do not have access to high-speed internet service.

“The pandemic has once and for all reinforced the idea that Internet access is not a luxury, but a necessity,” Lightfoot said in a press release.

“Chicago Connected is a revolutionary program that has helped and will continue to help bridge the digital divide, further restricting access to high quality education, health care, social services, employment and more I am excited to continue this work by expanding Chicago Connected to our community college students and helping open more doors of opportunity for our residents.

Griffin said he was proud of the “great strides” made over the past year in “empowering Chicago students to pursue their dreams and realize their full potential. … Chicago Connected has shown communities across the board. United States that when we bridge the digital divide, we provide young people with a critical path to success.

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