San Francisco Over 36 percent of low-income schools in California are not connected to the Internet, according to a report released today by Latino Issues Forum (LIF), a non-profit public policy and advocacy institute. The report, "Connecting California's Children: Is E-rate Enough?" finds that despite federal efforts to provide Internet access to low-income schools, California's poorest schools are still behind in the race for technology.
The report shows that the $2.25 billion annual budget of the federally funded "E-Rate Program" to provide affordable Internet access for all schools and libraries is insufficient to meet the funding needs of these institutions. In the fourth year of the program, application requests for funds throughout the nation totaled $4.7 billion, more than twice the allotted funds for the program.
At the state level funding is also a problem. Despite the approximately $300 million dollars California received every year for the last three years to provide schools and libraries with Internet access, the state's schools are still in dire need of technology funding.
"Governor Davis made a commitment this year to hold California schools more accountable, to increase resources and expand investment in schools that need the most help. However, many of the funds committed are for one time use and the pledge to create `digital schools' in many poor communities still has a long way to go before this goal can be achieved," said Ana Montes, LIF's technology director. "We applaud the gov-ernor's commitment, but this report clearly shows that a lot still needs to be done and one time focused infusions of funds will not be enough to make all our schools technologically ready."
"Connecting California' Children: Is E-Rate Enough?" shows that funding is not the only limitation in California's schools. As a result of a survey conducted in 37 low-income California elementary and public high schools, LIF found that schools face severe systemic problems including poor communication, lack of resources for training, lack of computer hardware and software, basic building infrastructure, school safety and classroom shortages.
Based on survey results, the report outlines four key findings:
1. Schools reported not having the prerequisites that are necessary to be eligible for E-rate funding. Of the schools surveyed, 32% do not have a technology plan, one of the main prerequisites of the program, and of the 67% with technology plans, many do not have sufficient resources to fully benefit from the program.
2. Information on funding and resources of the program does not trickle down from school districts to individual schools. The lack of communication between individual schools and their districts makes it difficult for schools to understand and apply for the program. 43% of the schools in the study were not familiar with the E-Rate program, despite its four-year existence.
3. Schools with low levels of Internet connectivity serve an impoverished student population with an average of 90% free or reduced lunch plan eligibility rate and a less than 1% white population.
4. There are significant differences in technology access in California's schools. High performing schools have approximately 12 classrooms with Internet access and a ratio of 11 students per computer. Low performing schools have an average of only 2 classrooms with Internet connection and as many as 14 students per computer.
"This information should be a wake-up call to California policy makers and education officials," says Viola Gonzales, executive director of LIF. "It is embarrassing that a state recognized for its technological prowess ranks 38th in the nation for school connectivity."
In its recommendations, the report encourages the California Superintendent of Schools to initiate a statewide inventory of technology funding sources that can be used in California's schools. It also recommends conducting an audit through the California State Legislature of the schools receiving E-rate funds.
To ensure equitable access to technology for all students, LIF recommends funding and creating Technology Advancement Zones that include the most impoverished schools and communities in the state. These schools, recommends LIF, should be targeted to receive federal, state, and private aid in the form of computers, teacher training, infrastructure, software, and curriculum development as a way of improving access to low-income and minority areas.
"The E-rate has done great things for schools that have been able to access and utilize it," said Rep. Sam Farr. "But as this report shows, it hasn't eliminated the digital divide completely. We should continue to fund the E-rate, but we need to look for new tools that will help disadvantaged schools make better use of this great program." Congressman Sam Farr (D-17th District) has a model technology project in Watsonville, California, and is a key supporter of technology in underserved communities.