Chicago Connected: City, CPS initiative provides free internet for students

CHICAGO (WLS) -- More than 100,000 Chicago Public Schools students will soon have access to free broadband internet through a new initiative aimed at bridging the digital divide, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson announced Thursday.

The $50 million Chicago Connected program will provide the free internet service over the course of four years. Mayor Lightfoot said it is one of the largest and longest-term programs of its kind

"Reliable, high-speed internet is one of the most powerful equalizers when it comes to accessing information," said Mayor Lightfoot. "It allows families to access digital remote learning and stay connected to family near and far, especially during COVID-19. It allows families to build career skills, apply for jobs, register to vote and stay up-to-date on current events. This program is a critical component of our STEP agenda and the efforts to end poverty and a part of our mission to drive improved academic outcomes at CPS."

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson announced new fund to provide free high-speed internet to CPS families in need.

Chicago Connected will begin outreach to families next week, with the goal of connecting as many of the students as possible before the start of the 2020-21 school year. They are focusing on students most in need, like those suffering from homelessness, kids with special needs, and those who are free lunch eligible.

"Inequitable access to the Internet is a nationwide issue and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that internet service can no longer be viewed as a luxury," said CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. "To build on our students' academic progress, we are launching an unprecedented effort to provide stable, high-speed internet access to 100,000 CPS students over the next four years. This ambitious and critical undertaking would not be possible without the generous support of the philanthropic community."

The announcement came as CPS prepares for the possibility of a return to remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic. The district said it has already given out over 125,000 devices and thousands of hot spots.

The program is being made possible by donations from philanthropic partners including Ken Griffin, Crown Family Philanthropies, Illinois Tool Works, the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, the JPB Foundation and the Joyce Foundation. There will also be a joint commitment from President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust to the Children First Fund to support community-based organizations on the South Side.

"Michelle and I want every kid in Chicago to grow up knowing even better opportunities than we had - and that requires full and equitable access to the best tools and resources. We're happy to help Chicago Connected reach every kid in the city. This is where I found a purpose and a family - and it'll always be our home." - President Barack Obama

In addition to donations, $5 million from the CARES Act will go toward the program. The donations will cover the first two years of the program, with CPS paying for years three and four.

While critics of CPS and the mayor applauded their effort, they also questioned why grass roots community groups weren't included in the conversation about kids and their families in Black and brown neighborhoods.

Supporters hope to eventually expand the program to all of Chicago.
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