DTE Energy, Skillman Foundation, Quicken Loans, DPSCD and the City of Detroit announce $23 million investment to bridge the digital divide for 51,000 Detroit students

Detroit, April 23, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A coalition of Detroit’s leading businesses and philanthropic organizations today announced a plan to place a computer tablet with high-speed LTE internet connectivity, along with technical support, into the hands of every Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) K-12 student before the end of the school year.

The program, called Connected Futures, is the first step in addressing digital inequity within the City of Detroit – an issue that has been exacerbated as students have been forced to learn from home as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. DPSCD estimates that 90% of the district’s students do not have access to a device and the Internet.

Businesses, philanthropic organizations and DPSCD have committed funding for the program over the last three weeks. The first six months of internet connectivity will be fully subsidized during which time students will be transitioned to a low-cost, hard-wired connection.

“When our executive team began prioritizing COVID-19 relief efforts, the issue of digital inequity for Detroit students rose to the top,” said DTE Energy President and CEO Jerry Norcia. “We recognized that we needed to take action urgently to close the digital divide for these students and provide them with the tools necessary to thrive in the 21st Century. Today, the Detroit community commits to our children’s futures. It’s time for us to level the playing field for the students of Detroit.”

When schools were closed in mid-March and students had to finish their academic year at home, the district went to great lengths – including printing lesson packets – to ensure that learning continued. Regardless of the district’s efforts, the majority of students could not take advantage of online learning tools or connect with their teachers through video chat.

“This has been part of our long-term plan for DPSCD for three years as we have invested in technology at schools, but these investments did not impact the lack of connectivity at home,” said Dr. Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD superintendent. “The ability for our students to access the educational platforms that they use during the school day from home will elevate their learning year-round, not just during this crisis. We know that our children perform exponentially better during the school year, but when they return in September, they’ve lost much of their progress from the prior school year. We are sincerely grateful to DTE for leading the charge on this initiative and for the many funders who have come forward to support our students.”

Norcia points out that this program will benefit the entire family, not just the student. Between online job applications and workforce development opportunities, digital connectivity is a necessity. While students use the devices and internet connection to learn, their families will be able to easily access sites that can help them with everything from applying for financial assistance to finding a job.

“This entire program, from conception to funding, came together in less than three weeks,” said Bill Emerson, vice chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Holdings, Inc., “This is the power of our community when we’re faced with a big challenge. I believe this is a program that will be a catalyst for generations.”

Providing DPSCD students with the tools necessary in a digital world is only the first step. Funders recognize that this is an issue for the city’s charter schools as well.

“This is the first tranche that we’re tackling,” said Skillman Foundation President and CEO Tonya Allen. “DPSCD has the largest number of Detroit students and we wanted to be sure that we reached as many children as quickly as possible. But we’re not done. We’re already planning an expansion of this program to reach more than 36,000 children who attend other K-12 schools in the city. Digital access has evolved from a nicety to a necessity – and we cannot afford to let our children down. We invite businesses and other philanthropic organizations – big and small – to join us in this ongoing effort to lift up the children of Detroit.”

The program was built with sustainability and accountability at the forefront. Both DPSCD and DTE have committed a project manager to this initiative. DPSCD, the City of Detroit, DTE, Quicken Loans and The Skillman Foundation have created a committee to oversee the initiative for the long-term – monitoring critical data points, discussing any issues that may arise and jointly problem solving.

“When we look back to this time in 10 years, we will see that this moment changed the trajectory of education in our city,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “We have risen to the challenge of this pandemic and found a way to forge something positive for our children. This will be a defining moment of pride in Detroit for many, many years.”

Connected Futures Partners

  • DTE Energy Foundation
  • Detroit Public Schools Community District
  • Kellogg Foundation
  • Quicken Loans
  • General Motors
  • The Skillman Foundation

Comments from Connected Futures partners

Reverend Wendell Anthony President, Detroit Branch NAACP

“I still believe in miracles. Despite all the illness, despair and yes, even death in this current situation, ‘The Village’ has now come together to inspire new life in the education of our children through the next generation. This is more than a laptop and a hookup to the internet today. It represents the opportunity to stand up and look up towards their future tomorrow. I am reminded, ‘the darkness of the storm determines the brightness of the rainbow’ Matshona Dhliwayo. Through this effort, I can certainly see a rainbow.”

Terry Rhadigan Executive Director, Corporate Giving at General Motors

“Our thanks to Dr. Vitti and all DPSCD faculty for advocating for students, especially under these extraordinary circumstances. We’re pleased to support the Connected Futures initiative through our work with human-I-T to help ensure students’ time at home is safe, productive and rewarding.”

Faye Nelson Director of Michigan Programs, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

“We are proud to collaborate on Connected Futures and its rapid response to eliminate the digital divide for Detroit’s students. At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, children are at the heart of everything we do but we know that for children to thrive, their communities need to be equitable places of opportunity. Putting these essential tools in the hands and households of Detroit children lets families know we value all of our children and we’re committed to their learning, growth and development.”

Colleen Rosso
DTE Energy

Aaron Walker
Rock Ventures

Natalie Fotias
Skillman Foundation

Chrystal Wilson

John Roach
City of Detroit
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