Free Laptops and Tablets with Internet for All Public School Students Loaded with Culturally Responsive Digital Textbooks Proposed by Electeds
Following Broad Systemic Failures, Department of Education to be Required to Report on Cost, Stock and Distribution of Devices for Oversight and to Ensure Equity
New York, NY — With every single one of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students learning online partially or fully, the Department of Education estimates that there are still upwards of 77,000 students who still need internet-capable devices despite repeated assurances from Mayor Bill de Blasio that “every student who needs one gets one.” Oversight legislation authored by Council Members Ben Kallos and Farah Louis and sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Education Chair Mark Treyger, Borough Presidents Eric Adams and Gale Brewer, and Council Member Stephen Levin would force the city to give free laptops and tablets with Internet for all public school students loaded with culturally responsive digital textbooks and report on numbers, costs, and distribution along with the demographics of students receiving devices.
Since the start of the pandemic in March and the transition to remote learning, parents and students have reported inability to access to high-speed internet, lack of adequate remote learning devices, and an exacerbation of racial disparities in student engagement with remote learning. In April, the Department of Education spent over $269 million on 300,000 iPads, equipped with T-Mobile LTE for $10 a mobile. The number of devices distributed, the number of students who received devices, and the number actually used, remain outstanding. Last month, the City Council even had to subpoena Department of Education remote attendance data.
The proposed legislation would mandate the DOE to report by September 1st of each year on the number of:
- Laptops in the DOE’s custody, including breakdowns by cost, type of device and connectivity capabilities;
- Devices distributed and demographics of the recipient (where possible);
- The annual cost of maintenance of the stockpile of devices;
- Source of funding from foundations, elected official discretionary funds,
- Existing household Internet connections (cable, fiber, 4G/5G, Internet Assist) and devices (desktop, laptop, tablet);
- Housing status (permanent housing, temporary housing, shelter);
The legislation which will be introduced today would also mandate that devices come loaded with culturally responsive open digital textbooks. This follows an opinion editorial by Kallos and Silicon Harlem’s Clayton Banks that proposed saving $84 million and rooting out racial injustice in the classroom, where textbooks too often perpetuate notions of white supremacy through a narrow focus on the achievements of white men.
“Every student should have a computer and Internet as part of their public school education. The homework gap was bad before the pandemic and has only gotten worse for low-income students of color who don’t even Internet or a device with a keyboard in their home. Our segregated public school system continues to perpetuate systems of racism in their failure to get low-income students of color the device they need,” said Council Member Ben Kallos a public school graduate. “When I went to public school in the 90s the school offered free dial-up Internet for students and we have to do better. Thank you to Borough Presidents Adams and Brewer as well as Council Members Treyger and Louis for their partnership in connecting our children.”
“New York City, the largest and wealthiest city in the country, should be more than capable of providing all students — regardless of race or income — with a high-quality education and the fundamental skills to excel in their studies. However, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the present-day challenges that Black and brown students must overcome to regularly attend classes and submit their coursework. Without computers or affordable internet access, the achievement gap will only worsen in divested communities. It is the City’s responsibility to accelerate their efforts to bring households into the 21st century, and help secure their future. If we cannot end the racial disparities that exist in the nation’s largest public school system, then we have failed 1.1 million students who deserve a head start in life. I am proud to co-sponsor legislation with Council Member Kallos to expand educational equity in New York City through the use of modern technology,” said Council Member Farah N. Louis.
"The fact thousands of our kids part from under-resourced communities still don't have a device is unacceptable and shameful. The only thing worse than over 77,000 kids not having access to technology and the internet is knowingly starting the school year with this alarming data. This legislation that my colleagues and I put forth will immediately account for every child from every zip code having the technology, internet, and quality education they deserve and are constitutionally entitled to," said Council Education Chair Mark Treyger.
“Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams said, "The pandemic has exacerbated the same educational inequities that made New York City schools the most segregated in the nation, and deepened the digital divide. By refusing to more fully invest in expanding and improving remote learning this semester, the administration has left thousands of students without the tools they need to get the education they deserve. I thank Council Members Kallos and Louis for introducing this legislation to provide accessibility for students who lack it and accountability for an administration that requires it," said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“The pandemic has widened the digital divide between families who have access to high-speed internet and computers and those who don't, particularly families of color, who stand to be left behind when it comes to their children's educational future," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, and founding chair of the NYC Council Technology Committee. "I thank Council Member Kallos for his leadership in introducing this bill which will provide laptops to New York City Public School students and provide transparency on how the City allocates its technology resources for students and which populations are being prioritized,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
“It is a disgrace that almost seven months into remote learning, there are still more than 77,000 outstanding requests for learning devices from students trying to access their classes. This failure threatens to further widen the achievement gap, which falls hardest on students of color and those with unstable living situations. I was proud to stand with Council Member Kallos and Council Member Treyger two weeks ago in calling for greater transparency from the DOE and greater buy-in from our internet service providers, and I am just as proud today to advance these efforts with further partnership from Borough President Brewer and Council Member Louis. This legislation is an important step toward ensuring we get clear answers from the DOE on remote learning so that our most vulnerable scholars do not get left behind during this unprecedented period," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“It is easier to get a gun than it is to get a computer. We can all do better, and must ensure that our students have 21st-century tools to academically excel. Silicon Harlem supports free
laptops and tablets with Internet for all public school students loaded with culturally responsive digital textbooks. Remote learning and the reliance on technology to master a curriculum has exposed the inequities for too many of our students and citizens in our city,” said Clayton Banks, Co-founder of Silicon Harlem and co-author of the opinion editorial advocating for culturally response open digital textbooks.
"With or without the Covid-19 crisis, access to public education resources now requires access to the Internet, and without question, proper access to the Internet requires a laptop, FULL STOP!" said Andrew Rasiej, Founder of MOUSE.org and CivicHall.org "By providing every public school student with a guaranteed laptop, New York City is guaranteeing the future of its youth and its own future too."
“Using technology to make education more accessible has been a crucial effort in New York during recent years, but the arrival of COVID means that we have to do even more to get the job done, said Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Tech: NYC. Every student in our public schools system needs certain tools to learn in today’s digital environment, and we have a responsibility to help families who can’t afford the requisite devices. I applaud local leaders for coming together to propose this bill, which will not only make laptops and tablets more accessible but ensure that we’re prioritizing transparency and measuring success.”
Additional Press Contracts:
Borough President Brewer: Aries De La Cruz,(917)-960-1187,ADelacruz@manhattanbp.nyc.gov
Borough President Adams: Jonah Allen,(929)-291-8881,Jonah.Allon@brooklynbp.nyc.gov
Council Member Louis: Kristia B. Winter,(332)-223-9301,KWinter@council.nyc.gov
Council Member Treyger: Maria Henderson,(646) 891-8441, MHenderson@council.nyc.gov