State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond today announced that Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), in partnership with the San Diego Foundation, have donated a total of $420,000 to the Bridging the Digital Divide Fund. SDG&E and the San Diego Foundation’s grant of $100,000 to the Classroom of the Future Foundation will address the digital divide among tribal K–12 youth in San Diego County. SoCalGas’ portion of $320,000 will be split into five grants to separate organizations in Southern California for specific work to close the digital divide. SoCalGas and SDG&E are part of the Sempra Energy family of companies.
This contribution to the Bridging the Digital Divide Fund, established by the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation (CDE Foundation), supports the California Department of Education’s (CDE) Closing the Digital Divide Task Force. The COVID-19 pandemic forced an estimated 97 percent of California’s 6.2 million students to begin their school year in distance learning. The task force has been working since April on behalf of California’s most vulnerable students and families who continue to experience barriers to internet access and distance learning.
“This is a difficult time for all of us, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated access issues to technology, placing additional strain and stress on some of our most underserved populations who still lack the basic tools to connect to their learning,” said Thurmond. “Through my Closing the Digital Divide Task Force, formed to secure devices and reduced-cost internet service, I have asked 100 of California’s top companies to step up and help close this gap. I commend SDG&E and SoCalGas for answering that call and for their investment toward lifting up every child, an example I hope others will follow.”
“Both of our companies have a long history of supporting school and community programs that help underserved children overcome barriers to success. Now more than ever, our schools, teachers, and students need us to step up to help fill the gaps so no child is left behind, especially during this challenging time,” said Eugene “Mitch” Mitchell, vice president of state governmental affairs and external affairs for SDG&E and SoCalGas.
The $100,000 Classroom of the Future grant was made through the San Diego Foundation’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund, which SDG&E seeded. SDG&E has contributed $2.5 million to the fund and has plans to donate another $500,000 in early 2021. The grant will address the digital divide among tribal K–12 youth in San Diego County by providing laptops and mobile hotspots. According to Classroom of the Future Foundation and the San Diego County Office of Education, there are more than 350 tribal students across several San Diego County school districts who are unable to fully participate in distance learning because they lack computers and/or internet connectivity.
SoCalGas’ $320,000 in total grants will benefit five local organizations to help meet specific needs: Southeast Community Development Corporation will provide students from South Los Angeles with a Chromebook, earbuds, hotspots, and tutoring. STEAM Coders will provide STEAM programming to more than 1,100 K–12 students enrolled in four schools located in Los Angeles, Inglewood, and Claremont and will provide 140 high-grade laptops with 120 hotspots. Southern California Indian Center will supply 100 laptops and hotspots to low-income Native American children throughout Los Angeles County and Orange County. YMCA Greater Metropolitan Los Angeles will purchase equipment to extend their wi-fi access to the outside of each of their 26 branches. Community Coalition (South Los Angeles) will sponsor laptops, hotspots, and Microsoft Office for students in Los Angeles Unified School District.
Since April, the State Superintendent and his task force—in collaboration with the Governor’s Office, state lawmakers, and nonprofits such as the CDE Foundation—have been working to remove inequitable barriers to student access by working with internet service providers, tech companies, device manufacturers, and other groups to increase access to devices and internet connections.
The CDE and the task force have since partnered with a few major technology companies and internet service providers to put together programs to make it easier for schools to acquire necessary equipment and services for their students. Local educational agencies (LEAs) are encouraged to start the process now as devices are in high demand across the country. LEA staff can view more information at the CDE Securing Devices and Connectivity for Students web page.
At the same time, the Governor’s Office and lawmakers included $5.3 billion in one-time funding in the state budget for schools to strengthen distance learning heading into the same year. These funds can be used immediately for purchasing needed technology, and more information can be found on the CDE’s Learning Loss Mitigation Funding web page.
Read more about the CDE Foundation Bridging the Digital Divide Fund [cdefoundation.org].