Business, nonprofit leaders investing $23M to get tablets, internet access to Detroit students

Business and nonprofit leaders in Detroit announced a special partnership Thursday to benefit students in the city. 

They're investing $23 million to help close the digital divide that Detroit kids are facing at school. This means they're all getting the technology and internet they need to help keep up with at-home learning during the shutdown, into the summer months and beyond.

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 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.

An estimated 51,000 students are staying home right now, with an overwhelming majority lacking the ability to continue learning online. Dr. Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD superintendent, says only about 10-20% of those students have consistent access a device or to the internet. 

Dr. Vitti says now starting in June, thanks to this partnership, the district can distribute a tablet and high-speed LTE internet access to every student for the next six months. 

The program, called Connected Futures, is a partnership is between DTE Energy, the Skillman Foundation, Quicken Loans, DPSCD and the City of Detroit. 

Dr. Vitti says hopefully classes will be back in session in the fall after Labor Day as planned, but if students or employees are reluctant to return to the building the district will consider moving forward with a blended learning model. 

This can now be achieved with this bridge of the district's digital gap, which can also help students with weekend learning, snow day learning and summer learning - something Dr. Vitti points out is already being done in several suburban districts across the country. 

Tonya Allen, Skillman Foundation president and CEO says 36,000 other kids in Detroit are enrolled in other school districts, but the group is already planning to expand this support to include them, too. 

"We want all children in this city to win and we believe this partnership will make this happen. They will have the tools they'll need to get a 21st-century education," she said. 

"The ability to raise $23 million in such a short time to have an impact for such a long time is indeed miraculous, coming out of this mayhem. This is one sure way of defeating COVID-19. The disease may have taken our bodies but it can never take the spirit out of the City of Detroit," said Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. "We won't be known in Detroit 2020 for the Covid illness, we'll be known for the time we hooked up and gave our children a future." 

"I have to be the luckiest mayor in America, where most of the country is reeling from a health and economic crisis the religious and corporate and philanthropic community in Detroit is rallying together to address an inequity that's plagued our children for many years. It's remarkable how far we've come," Mayor Mike Duggan said.

The technology from Connected Futures will also help uplift Detroit families, bringing internet access to parents for online job applications or workforce development. 

The group says they intend for this partnership to serve as a model for other school districts in the state and across the country.