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Internet access should be available to all Tennessee school children

BY KIM HENDERSON
TN PTA PRESIDENT
The current pandemic has revealed more than ever that broadband and technology is a modern-day necessity. But for far too many, especially students, families and businesses in Tennessee, the lack of reliable and affordable high-speed internet or technology devices has also become a learning crisis for our children in the face of COVID-19.
Fortunately, unlike so many elements of the pandemic, this is a challenge we can solve. It doesn’t require a new vaccine or cure. It only requires a commitment from our elected officials and policymakers to find and close the connectivity gaps.
The time has come to ensure that every household in Tennessee has access to affordable high-speed internet, and that each student has access to an appropriate device for education.
When local school districts across our state were forced to close earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the families of the nearly one million Tennessee K-12 students did their best to quickly adjust to online learning.
Many students could not participate in virtual learning. But now, when it looks like many schools will not be fully back to normal in the new school year, the piecemeal used to connect with students virtually in the spring will not be enough. We need urgent action and real investment to close the connectivity gap statewide.
It is estimated that nearly 500,000 Tennesseans do not have internet access at home that is fast enough to support online learning. This disproportionately affects students in rural areas and low-income families and students in our urban centers.
As more and more school districts try to implement remote learning, students without internet access or appropriate technology devices will miss critical instructional time Additionally they will miss interaction with their teachers and peers, and access to the enrichment resources and educational tools. Investment in broadband infrastructure is needed right now, but not only for student learning. It is also needed in providing all families with access to telehealth and working remotely in their jobs.
In 2020 it’s clear having broadband internet at home is not optional — it is a requirement for learning and for life.
Tennessee Parent-Teacher Association is encouraged to see that federal policymakers are taking this issue seriously. With the Senate likely to take up infrastructure bills that include funding for expanding broadband access, I am encouraged by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander’s leadership on this issue. He knows no student should lag behind their peers just because they lack technology and internet access at home. We need to make good use of all available resources, but I also hope our leaders in Washington and in Nashville will quickly make investments in both wired and wireless broadband, and device access to help ensure that all Tennessee students can succeed.
(Kim Henderson from Franklin is President of the Tennessee PTA, the state’s oldest and largest child advocacy organization.)