Press Conference Scheduled: OUSD and City of Oakland Announce Plan to CLOSE the Digital Divide; Bold $12.5 Million Plan Launches on Thursday!
Oakland, CA – “It’s time to close the digital divide once and for all,” is the rallying cry of the leaders of a new effort to support students and families in Oakland. The digital divide has been in the news recently as something that keeps the field of education uneven and unfair. Students with plenty of resources at home, such as a computer and WiFi, can access their education in ways that students with few resources can. Oakland is a prime example of a place where this disparity exists, as thousands of OUSD students can’t afford a computer or WiFi. Today, half of Oakland’s 50,000 public school students don’t have their own computer, internet access, or are under connected.
Oakland Unified School District, the City of Oakland, the Oakland Public Education Fund and Tech Exchange are holding a joint press conference on Thursday morning, May 14 to announce they are leading an unprecedented campaign to close the digital divide by raising enough money to supply a computer and internet access to every student in Oakland who needs one, and to do the same for each student in need who joins the District every year. It’s a $12.5 million campaign.
“This is about equity in education. Every student deserves the ability to study and learn at home, but here in the 21st century, that’s just not fully possible if you cannot access the internet,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “That’s why we are starting this critical effort to get technology and Wifi into every student’s home, and to continue the effort every year into the future. The internet should be a public utility like water, power and even the freeway system, for all of us to use. Until we have universal broadband in this country, we need to do all we can to make the internet available to our students.”
“Working together, we have an unprecedented opportunity to close the digital divide for good in Oakland,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “It’s not just about access to the internet, it’s also about giving families the tools that lead to information that improves their lives. I’m grateful to our community partners who have come together in this crisis to help Oakland find the silver lining and close one of our starkest disparities.”
Since the start of the school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, the digital divide has become more prominent as many students have been unable to fully access distance learning. With the help of its partner organizations, OUSD has taken the extraordinary step of loaning more than 18,000 Chromebooks from school inventories to students to use at home. But the digital divide is so large, that this move still wasn’t enough to ensure all students have technology at home. 5,000 students still need that access. “The current crisis has exposed inequities in home technology access that affects far too many Oakland students,” says Seth Hubbert, Executive Director of Tech Exchange. “I am encouraged by the strength of the growing coalition that is driven to support all students with home access and close the digital divide for good.”
The Oakland Public Education Fund (the Ed Fund) donated $400,000 to the campaign. Marjorie Goux, President of the Ed Fund’s Board of Directors said our present circumstances make the need clearer than ever before. “COVID-19 starkly raised a wakeup call to close Oakland’s digital divide for good. This campaign shows us how rallying together, a city, a mayor, a school district, a superintendent, philanthropists and corporate and individual supporters can be more than reactive, and can invest during a crisis for lasting change. The Oakland Public Education Fund Board of Directors is so pleased to seed this campaign with a $400,000 donation. This is the best kind of giving: funders see immediate results that also provide longer-term equity support for Oakland’s most vulnerable students and families.”
Among our biggest donors to date, Salesforce is supporting this campaign with an investment of $200,000. “As our classrooms shift online, we need to act urgently to close the digital divide,” said Ebony Beckwith, Chief Philanthropy Officer for Salesforce. “Together, with the City of Oakland and OUSD, we aim to provide every student the resources they need to continue their education journey from home.”
So far, we have raised $1.8M towards our immediate $2.5M goal and are hoping to fill the remaining gap by the end of this month to ensure all students have devices for the summer and the start of the 2020-21 school year. The Golden State Warriors were a big early supporter of this campaign, donating $125,000. “We understand the issues that exist with the digital divide in the Oakland schools and we’re thrilled that the Warriors Community Foundation could do our part to assist in rectifying this problem,” said Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr. “However, we also understand that we have a lot of mileage to cover in order to put our students of today in a position to succeed tomorrow. We’ll need everyone’s support to help us achieve this goal.”
Amazon is also a major supporter, donating $100,000. “Supporting students, parents, and schools during this tough transition to remote learning is one of the most important things that Amazon can do amid the COVID-19 crisis,” said Alice Shobe, Director of Amazon in the Community. “As part of Mayor Schaaf’s initiative to close the Digital Divide for Oakland public school students from underserved communities, Amazon’s $100,000 donation to the Oakland Public Education Fund will help 200 students receive the tools they need to keep learning from home – vital resources that will help them stay on track and stay connected to their teachers during these trying times.”
Other donors include the Koshland Family Foundation, Oakland COVID-19 Relief Fund, The Barrios Trust, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel Foundation, Comcast, Family and Beyond, Kapor Center, Verizon, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Akonadi Foundation, BlackRock, Anonymous, among others.
During the Thursday press conference, media will hear from student leader Jessica Ramos, who will share how the digital divide impacted her family and still impacts her fellow students. Also speaking are Mayor Libby Schaaf, OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Tech Exchange Executive Director Seth Hubbert and Oakland Public Education Fund Interim Executive Director Alexandria Medina.
Do you want to get involved? If you are interested in joining our movement and/or helping us to fill the gap by making a tax-deductible donation or donating computers, hotspots or connecting us with other potential partners, please contact David Silver, Director of Education for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at [email protected], Curtiss Sarikey, OUSD Chief of Staff at [email protected] or Jonathan Osler from the Ed Fund at [email protected]. You can learn more about how to get involved at https://www.oaklandedfund.org/digitaldivide.
About the Oakland Unified School District
In California’s most diverse city, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is dedicated to creating a learning environment where “Every Student Thrives!” More than half of our students speak a non-English language at home. And each of our 83 schools is staffed with talented individuals uniting around a common set of values: Students First, Equity, Excellence, Integrity, Cultural Responsiveness and Joy. We are committed to preparing all students for college, career and community success.