Of the several cracks in our nation’s foundation laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic, unequal internet access may have the worst long-term consequences. With thousands of schools and universities going online, a huge digital divide is, no doubt, wreaking havoc on students’ learning outcomes. This is most especially terrible for those who get the least amount of resources – Latinos, Indigenous, Black and other poor kids across California and the entire country.
Families and educators agree: If we want all students to succeed in this type of setup, we need more state, local and federal investments in technology, infrastructure and supplemental learning tools.
With partisan gridlock in D.C. and no second CARES act, California should step in to offer a solution to the problem. While the coronavirus is unprecedented in several ways, there are tons of lessons to be learned from similar awful times in our past.
Right after the Great Depression, came the WPA (Works Progress Administration), one of the best new deal programs. It was created in 1935 with a $4.9 billion budget. That was 6.7% of that GDP that year.
Throughout its eight-year run, it employed over 8.5 million Americans. It accomplished two primary things. First, put people back to work, and then second meet national needs, from preserving the arts to shoring up infrastructure.
California can learn from the WPA. During that time, the interest rates were at record lows. California must be able to secure investments in broadband infrastructure in order to expand people’s access to broadband networks. This can develop more private-public partnerships to make sure that upcoming generation of 5G technology reaches even the poorest communities.
Meanwhile, California must take action to support pupils who live in locations with poor broadband infrastructures. Using the state’s pandemic relief fund, we can hire many 18- to 24-year-old teachers at scale, offering jobs to college students who can’t attend school at the moment. These young people are highly knowledgeable with online tools. They need to support themselves, and require economic assistance for themselves and for their families.
We can also utilize a windfall profits tax in order to pay for such timely, urgent interventions and then restore some fiscal balance. Taxes on high earners can be imposed to offer an instant influx of money for education.
Meanwhile, several cities are starting to redirect money intended for police department expansion to other programs to address social, racial and economic justice, specifically for Black people. Apart from alternative public safety strategies, some of the redirected money must be used to address opportunity gaps in schools.