24 Jun COVID-19 brings Mississippi nearer to closing the digital divide
At the Mississippi Center for Justice, we know from experience that disasters accelerate social trends already in place, for good or for ill. We saw it in housing after Hurricane Katrina and in our coastal ecosystems after the BP oil disaster. And it is just as true today with the Coronavirus pandemic and the digital divide—the gap between those with reliable access to high speed internet and those without it. The important news is that Congress and our state legislature are poised to close this opportunity gap.
When classrooms shut down three months ago and turned to schooling from home, many students had difficulty keeping up with their schoolwork due to their lack of broadband internet access or devices. Students were not alone in this. Many teachers also struggled to maintain a nurturing learning environment while dealing with poor internet connections. But this was not true everywhere. School districts with greater resources managed this shift more effectively. Districts across the state had to take different approaches to distance learning based on the tools at their disposal. More than 130 school districts used a blended approach to distance learning, while others went exclusively digital, according to a survey by the Mississippi Department of Education. The Department of Education could not standardize its approach to distance learning due to disparities between districts that continue to persist, the digital divide being one of the most prevalent. The CARES Act and state legislation, such as the Equity in Distance Learning Act SB 3044, offer an extraordinary chance to equalize digital access and improve Mississippi public education.
Right now, Congress has appropriated CARES Act funds that may be used to equip, train, and ensure that students and teachers have the necessary technology for success in distance learning. Equity—that is, ensuring everyone has all that is required to be on par with his or her peers—is the specific goal of the Equity in Distance Learning Act, SB 3044. And the COVID-19 Connectivity Act SB, 3046, builds on last year’s legislation to extend broadband access to every corner of the state, no matter how rural or remote. Access, devices, support, and planning are equally important components that are necessary to build this new educational environment.
On June 24, the Senate passed SB 3044 and SB3046. Now, the future of our children’s access to broadband based education rests with the state House of Representatives. To stay up to date on these bills and many other education related bills, through our colleagues at the Parents’ Campaign, click here. Also, for information on your county and school district’s response to COVID-19, click here.
Generating a stable, supported, more equitable learning environment is a strong step towards addressing the many disparities without Mississippi’s education system.