KCPS digital rollout hits a snag when it comes to the internet

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Kansas City Public Schools District said it will roll out more laptops to students in January 2014 as part of their Digital Learning Initiative. But some kids may face a significant challenge when they the laptops home.

Student internet access is the next big issue the Kansas City Public Schools district is working to tackle.

Connecting for Good, a non-profit in Kansas City that is working to bridge the digital divide, estimates that 70 percent of the students in the district do not have access to the internet at home. That's why the district said it's working to find a way to provide free or discounted internet service to families that need it.

"You either choose to feed your family and maintain your home or you get the internet. And in these days and times you have to make that choice," Nadia Whitley said, a mother of two kids in the Kansas City Public Schools District who cannot afford internet access at home.

41 Action News spoke with her in September about the lack of internet access for Kansas City students.

The district is in the process of rolling out laptops as part of a district-wide program to increase digital literacy.

Dr. Elizabeth Ann Sanders, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary and Secondary Education said students need to be prepared for college.

"They'll have to be truly proficient in the use of technology and responsible with the use of technology so this is preparation for them," she said. 

The laptops are loaded with textbooks and programs to assistant students both inside and outside the classroom. But the majority of students in the district can't afford to access the internet at home, a crucial tool for at least four programs on the new laptops.

Students like Richard Fisher III, an eighth grader at Lincoln, said he often uses the internet to access his favorite programs on the laptop

"For Emodo, teachers can put planners and stuff on there like what's due in class, a test that's coming up so you can know to study and you won't forget. And Pearson's SuccessNet has books on there and assignments that can help you with the books," he said.

Richard represents a small portion of students who would be able to sue the programs at home. For the rest, once they leave the classroom, their laptop turns into a schoolbook.

Michael Liimata, the President and CEO of connecting for good, has been working to bring Kansas City residents into the digital age.

"From our perspective, it's just not the resource, it's just not the tool that it could be if you had an internet connection," he said.

Liimata said students need to be fully connected in order to directly impact their achievement.

"I don't think it's really possible today to get ahead and improve your life without connection to the internet," he said.

Most families like Nadia Whitley's share similar goals for their kids.

"I don't want them to be at the bottom of the pile. I want them to be on top," she said.
A spokesperson for the district said the district recognizes that many families cannot afford internet access. District leaders have had several preliminary discussions with providers in the area to try to work out a deal where families could get access to the internet at the reduced or free rate. However, the district said these partnerships are costly and it is unsure if it could fit in the budget at this time.

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