Coalition of Business, Nonprofit, Philanthropic, and Civic Leaders Partner with the City to Provide Support
PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia today announced PHLConnectED, a collaboration to connect up to 35,000 low-income K-12 student households with internet service and devices. The program, which will also provide digital skills training and tech support for families, is an urgent response to schools moving to virtual learning in the upcoming academic year as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
A broad coalition of businesses, schools and civic leaders has come together to support the initiative and additional partners are expected to join. Initial partners include:
- City of Philadelphia
- School District of Philadelphia
- Fund for the School District of Philadelphia
- Select Charter Schools, including Mastery Schools, KIPP Charter Schools, Esperanza Charter Schools, Boys Latin Charter School, Independence Charter School, Philadelphia Charters for Excellence, and Richard Allen Prep Charter
- Comcast Corporation
- Lenfest Foundation
- Neubauer Family Foundation
- Philadelphia School Partnership
- William Penn Foundation
- Philadelphia Housing Authority
The three core components of PHLConnectED (pronounced P-H-L Connected) include:
- Free wired, high-speed, reliable broadband internet to the home from Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, or a high-speed mobile hotspot for families who are housing-insecure or need a portable option.
- Distribution of devices, such as chromebooks, tablets, or computers. Devices have already been paid for and procured through the School District, some Charters, and private funds.
- Free skills training and tech support for students, families and teachers to ensure they not only get connected, but also stay connected and safely take full advantage of all that the internet has to offer.
PHLConnectED is part of the first stage of the City’s larger digital equity initiative that supports internet adoption and digital literacy skills development for all Philadelphia residents.
“Our goal is to identify and implement affordable, simple and reliable digital access solutions for all our residents,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “By focusing on K-12 student households now, we can have an immediate impact in bridging the digital divide, especially to support distance learning for the upcoming school year.”
“The digital divide is an inequity that presents a significant barrier to our goal of helping all students in every neighborhood reach their full academic potential,” said William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D., Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. “So, we at the School District of Philadelphia are pleased to see the City, legislators and business leaders come together to launch PHLConnectED, a program we believe can close the divide and allow for all students to have the access they need, especially now as we prepare for 100 percent digital learning to start the 2020-2021 school year next month.”
“For more than a decade, Comcast has been dedicated to tackling the digital divide nationally, and here in Philadelphia, with our Internet Essentials program. From the beginning of the pandemic, we have been working closely with the City of Philadelphia, the School District and others to help create the ‘PHLConnectED’ program to accelerate connecting thousands more K-12 students online,” said Dalila Wilson-Scott, President of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation. “A problem as vast and complex as this one also requires all of us to work together to ensure these students not only get connected but also stay engaged with distance learning throughout this academic year.”
“Our vision is one where Philadelphia’s future generations have the opportunity to be part of a productive future where they can thrive as part of both a local and global economy,” said Keith Leaphart, Board Chair of the Lenfest Foundation. “It begins with the most basic building blocks of education, and I am encouraged by the leadership and collaboration across our city in support of equitable opportunity.”
Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Schools, the largest charter school network in the City of Philadelphia, said of the partnership: “Solving the distance learning challenge faced by educators, administrators, parents, and students requires putting together so many pieces of a completely new puzzle and to do so quickly. We commend the City and all the partners involved for being at the table early and often to develop a comprehensive, flexible set of solutions for students across the city.”
“With schools, companies and nonprofits coming together, this is an opportunity to make Philadelphia the first city to bridge the digital divide,” said Mark Gleason, Executive Director of the Philadelphia School Partnership. “PHLConnectED will show what a difference we can make for children and families when public and private partners work together.”
“Lack of internet access should not be a barrier to any student’s education or family’s success,” said Janet Haas, M.D., Board Chair of William Penn Foundation. “The pandemic and shift to virtual school have highlighted stark inequities in internet access. This is not acceptable in the 21st century; we can and must do better for Philadelphia students. This shared belief inspired collaborative work to remove a barrier that families have experienced for too long.”
“This comes not a moment too soon.” said Joseph Neubauer, Chairman of the Neubauer Family Foundation. “High-speed internet access in school and at home is essential for 21st century education and to prepare for 21st century careers. This initiative will enable dedicated principals and teachers to stay in touch with their students, to guide them academically and emotionally during these very disruptive times. We commend our civic minded partners for making necessary technology available to enable students to continue their studies and to pursue paths out of poverty. If COVID-19 has illuminated anything in education, it is that connectivity must now be viewed as a right, not a privilege.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke added, “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Philadelphia was grappling with a crisis of poverty and inequality that left far too many of our vulnerable young residents without access to the quality educational resources that they deserve. The events of 2020 have made it clear that internet access is not a luxury, it’s a basic necessity and we should make every effort to provide it to our residents. We’re thankful to the coalition of PHLConnectED partners who have made digital equity a top priority for Philadelphia.”
City Council Committee Chair of Education Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez said, “We must ensure that all Philadelphians can access broadband internet – essential now more than ever for education, work, and access to vital resources – regardless of their income or housing status. As Chair of Council’s Education Committee I am committed to continued work with all stakeholders to create a new model and an equitable policy for Philadelphia.”
“Beyond where they live, Philadelphia Housing Authority cares about how residents live and whether they have the right tools to create life-changing opportunities,” said Kelvin A. Jeremiah, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. “Social distancing is expected to remain the norm for the near future, moving important social and educational interactions and gatherings online. We are proud to work with our partners to ensure families remain connected during these challenging times.”
Eligibility for this program is designed to ensure that families with the greatest need for internet service are prioritized. The first phase is focused on connecting K-12 student households who currently do not have any internet access or who only have mobile phone access and/or who are homeless or housing insecure. These student households are being identified by the Philadelphia School District, the Charter Schools Office, other schools, and internet service providers.
Eligible households will be contacted by their school directly through direct mail, email, calls, and/or text messages later this month. Partners are working to quickly set up PHLConnectED and will share additional details about the initiative within the next few weeks. More information will be regularly updated at phila.gov/PHLConnectED.
This phase of PHLConnectED will cost $17.1 million over two years to implement, this means $9.1 million in year one and $8 million in year two. Philanthropic partners are generously contributing over $11 million, the City is contributing $2 million from CARES Act funding, and the remaining costs will be shared among the School District, charter, independent mission, and private schools, as well as other donations. Individuals interested in contributing to this effort, are invited to donate at www.mayorsfundphila.org/initiatives/phlconnected/.