Hamilton County Fund for Digital Equity & Learning

With schools closed for the rest of the year and social distancing in place for the foreseeable future, there is a clear need for meaningful online learning for ALL students at all age levels in order to mitigate learning loss and prevent achievement gaps from widening further.

The Fund for Digital Equity and Continued Learning has two critical and co-dependent goals:

1) Ensuring access to broadband for all students through: a) low-cost (or free) home connectivity options for those who qualify, and b) significantly expanded public Wi-Fi networks within a 5-minute walk from every home in the urban core.

2) The development and implementation of age-appropriate curricula, teacher professional development, and family supports that ensure high-quality distance learning opportunities for all students.

While this is a significant and urgent challenge, it was one that Chattanooga is uniquely well-positioned to address, because of its municipally-owned Gigabit fiber optic infrastructure (operated by the EPB) and the strong community partnerships that have developed around leveraging this infrastructure for digital learning and public education.

Chattanooga has been credited with having the fastest internet in the United States thanks to the City of Chattanooga and Electric Power Board. Now is the time to ensure that every child can access it.

EPB, in partnership with The Enterprise Center and Hamilton County Schools, was quick to respond to the emergent need, upon the closure of schools on March 13th. 

HOT SPOTS & PUBLIC WIFI

EPB set up 27 quick connect public Wi-Fi hot spots and, with funding from Benwood and the City of Chattanooga, is in the process of installing 100 more in low-income areas. 

NETBRIDGE

EPB has made its low-cost option, NetBridge, free for three months for all current subscribers. Additionally, Hamilton County Schools has set up a tech support hotline and is working closely with families to connect them with low-cost (and free) home connectivity options.

DEVICES

Students having access to a device is critical to being truly connected to their learning and school community. To that end, Hamilton County Schools has made significant investments and progress, with the help of community partners. All middle and high school students were able to take home a device with them as soon as schools were closed. In addition, Chattanooga 2.0 helped to raise $100,000 from local businesses to purchase additional devices for elementary students. 

CONTINUED LEARNING & STUDENT CONNECTION

Hamilton County Schools has made contact with 99% of students and continues to provide learning supports through teachers, a weekly television program, and ongoing outreach. In addition, Chattanooga launched the Stay Home. Stay Safe. STAY SMART. campaign to support Hamilton County Schools in their efforts to promote continued learning while schools are closed.

It is clear that with great infrastructure and partnerships in place, our community has made significant progress in addressing digital equity and continued learning in a time of crisis. However, there is more that must be done, in order to fully address the digital divide and educational opportunity gap for all learners — and with the pressing issues of long-term school closures, now is the time to tackle the bigger questions: 

What would it look like for every student and family to have easy broadband access and what will it take for us to get there? 

How can Hamilton County lead the way in providing high-quality, equitable digital learning opportunities to ALL students?

Further investment could look like:

  • Full scale outreach to all families to understand their connectivity needs
  • Additional investment from EPB and partners to quickly connect more families to free in-home internet – and provide it free for at least three months
  • Expanded public Wi-Fi hotspots strategically placed within a 5-minute walk for 15,000 households in urban core
  • Demonstration and advocacy for scaling solutions
  • Training and stipends for teachers and “master teachers”
  • Curricula development
  • Summer educational programming to mitigate learning loss
  • Increased family engagement to support learning

This fund has received initial funding commitments from:

The fund represents a collaborative effort, with critical resource and leadership commitments from: