Santa Clara County puts up $7M to help bridge digital divide

One Bay Area County is taking steps to help all students start the new school year on equal footing. This is due to the sour taste of school children struggling to excel via distance learning which plagued many districts during the onset of COVID-19.

“When I need students to be able to translate information, perhaps they don’t have a smartphone. It makes educating very, very, challenging,” said Renna Rodriguez, a middle school teacher in the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose.

Monday, Santa Clara County supervisors joined with some San Jose council members to solve a two-decade problem. In Silicon Valley, some school districts flourish with technology, while others lag behind.

“Students that are at home that don’t have access to devices or internet are falling behind. They’re not getting access to any of the learning,” said Juan Cruz, superintendent of the Franklin-McKinley School District.

County and San Jose leaders are spending millions of dollars to bridge a digital divide dating back to the late ‘90s.

“There are thousands of children who will languish if we don’t act now,” said Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

The county is spending over $7M to provide 15,000 students with computers and tablets in underserved areas. Earlier this year, the City of San Jose ponied up over $8M for mobile internet hotspots, to improve connectivity for 11,000 students.

“To do a lot of the teaching with video, high bandwidth is necessary. And so you’re limited with how well you connect and how well you can study,” said Carolina Milanesi, a consumer tech analyst with Creative Strategies. Added San Jose Dist. 8 Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, “When they don’t have access, they don’t have access to learn.”

Officials say upwards of 26,000 students will eventually benefit this school year from the joint complimentary alliance between county and city forces.

“For me as a parent, it’s very important that every student should have a device so everyone has an equal opportunity to learn the same way as other students,” said Alicia Juarez, a parent of four students in the Franklin-McKinley School Dist.

School starts as early as the week of Aug. 10 in some districts in Santa Clara county. Officials say some technology has been purchased and distributed. And that process will continue over the next month-plus until all targeted children have received the technology they need to learn effectively.