Chicago Continues to Bridge the Digital Divide by Expanding Eligibility for No-Cost, High-Speed Internet to All Low-Income Public School Students in the City
04 December 2020
53,000 Additional CPS Students Eligible for No-Cost, High-Speed Internet for up to Four Years Through Chicago Connected; More than 50,000 Students Currently Enrolled in the Groundbreaking Program That Serves as a National Model for Cities and School Districts Across the Country
CHICAGO – Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today announced the expansion of eligibility criteria to all low-income students without wired internet for ‘Chicago Connected,’ the groundbreaking program that provides no-cost, high-speed internet service to CPS students in their households. Since its launch in June 2020, more than 50,000 students have enrolled in the program, which is on track to reach 100,000 students by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. With the eligibility expansion, ‘Chicago Connected’ can benefit as many as 53,000 additional students – creating the foundation for a permanent publicly supported system for families in Chicago. The City of Chicago’s recent ballot initiative that found 90 percent of Chicagoans were in support of the City ensuring broadband access in all community areas.
"‘Chicago Connected’ has been successful in ensuring our students and their families have the resources they need to attend and engage in school during this unprecedented time," said Mayor Lightfoot. "Now, with the welcomed expansion of this initiative, even more of our city's students will have the tools they need to continue to progress academically under challenged conditions. We are proud that this visionary program has been considered a model for other cities that, like us, seek to eliminate the digital divide in our communities during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond."
The City and CPS worked with philanthropist and Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin to initiate the first-of-its-kind, scalable solution to address the digital equity gap in June 2020.
Mr. Griffin added, “Reliable, high-speed internet access is a lifeline to education and opportunity. This expansion will provide even more students the resources they need to pursue a brighter future. I look forward to further adoption of the ‘Chicago Connected’ model as more communities prioritize internet access for students.”
‘Chicago Connected’ outreach and eligibility was initially conducted using a tiered system, beginning with outreach to families most in need based on students who met the most priority indicators, which included students eligible for free lunch, students identified as having special needs, students experiencing homelessness and students living in communities with the highest hardship based on the UIC hardship index. ‘Chicago Connected’ has now expanded eligibility to any low income student in need of high-speed internet who does not currently have wired internet, based on free and reduced lunch status. A total of 235,000 CPS students meet the eligibility criteria. Because the date for form submission that designates low-income status has been extended, if students were listed as low-income last school year they are still considered eligible and the eligibility will be updated again once the final metric is complete. Newly-eligible families will receive a letter notification and they can check eligibility status and access their activation code by entering their child’s student ID number and birthdate into CPS’ eligibility tool at cps.edu/GetConnected.
“While the district is working toward reopening our doors in January, expanding Internet access to as many families as possible remains a long-term priority, during the pandemic and beyond,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. “Through ‘Chicago Connected,’ we are closing the digital divide and providing equitable access to the internet to more of our students and their families. We are grateful for the support from the philanthropic community and our partner organizations who made this truly groundbreaking initiative possible.”
‘Chicago Connected’ is a first-of-its-kind, scalable solution that tackles the persistent issue of access through a public-private investment in broadband, with philanthropic partners bridging the initial costs to enable a sustainable outcome. ‘Chicago Connected’ has served as a model for other cities and school districts across the country, with more than 20 cities reaching out for more information on how the program is structured and operated. Notably, the City of Philadelphia recently announced a similar effort, PHLConnectED, to connect 35,000 of its students with internet services and devices.
Additionally, as part of the expansion of ‘Chicago Connected,’ the Big Shoulders Fund recently launched an extension of the program to serve 3,000 high-need students in Chicago’s inner-city Catholic schools. Mr. Griffin and Citadel COO Gerald Beeson have contributed $1 million to enable that extension.
Critical Partnerships to Support Program Goals
‘Chicago Connected’ provides connectivity by directly paying for a low-cost, high-speed internet service plan for families through Comcast and RCN wired service and T-Mobile Hotspots. In order to help facilitate the payments and various program components, United Way serves as the fiscal agent to help administer the funds and monitor the program.
Additionally, Chicago Connected selected 35 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to support outreach activities, provide newly-connected households with digital literacy resources, and connect households to additional services. Since the launch of Chicago Connected, CBOs have made over 150,000 contacts to eligible households -- helping families sign-up for service, answer questions about the sign-up process, and connect families to other supportive services offered by the partner organizations, including assistance with housing, food, and employment. Additionally, several Chicago Connected community partners are leading collaborative efforts with the city, CPS, Chicago Public Libraries, and City Colleges to design and implement a consensus-driven, community-led digital literacy and workforce development program that serves the needs of Chicago Connected families.
“Community partnerships have been a signature component of Chicago Connected from the very beginning. CBOs help build trust and understanding among often hard-to-reach families. They're also closing the digital literacy gap, which will help ensure true digital equity and inclusion over the long-term,” said Daniel Anello, CEO of Kids First Chicago.
Chicago’s Larger Vision for Digital Equity
The first phase of ‘Chicago Connected’ was centered on digital equity and internet connectedness as a way to lay the foundation for success for students by increasing access to online learning, college applications, training and workforce development, and other critical government services.
Expanding access to CPS households who need it the most represents the first phase of a larger effort by the City of Chicago to expand internet access more broadly. The City is evaluating additional ways to improve internet infrastructure investments in communities in need beyond CPS families and is dedicated to further exploring how to broaden ‘Chicago Connected’ to connect more families citywide.
For more information, please visit cps.edu/GetConnected.
Chicago Public Schools serves 341,000 students in 638 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school district.