COVID-19 has forced each of us to reassess how we operate within our home, workplace, and community. The pandemic has magnified many systemic inequities that the Texas Legislature must address during the upcoming legislative session (beginning January 2021) and well beyond. Namely, the digital divide, a person’s lack of access to a reliable device and broadband internet connection, has quickly become one of the largest barriers Texans young and old have been forced to overcome.
When the pandemic shuttered school buildings across the state, Texas PTA became increasingly concerned by the reports of hundreds of thousands of students unable to access the digital tools needed to be successful in virtual learning. While the transition to online learning and working was difficult for most, communities of low income, traditionally underserved populations, and rural areas felt the strain more than others. Students around the state and country have been unable to effectively receive quality educational services without access to connectivity and devices.
Texas PTA also knows that student success isn’t entirely dependent on their experience in the classroom. Many community-based services—like access to healthcare, vocational training or employment, and e-commerce—are just as critical to the success of our youth, their parents, and the communities where they live.
According to Connected Nation Texas, almost 1 million Texans do not have access to broadband at home. And at least 333,000 households with connectivity do not have the minimum connectivity necessary to attend school, visit a doctor online, or work from home.¹
Texas PTA has joined with the Greater Houston Partnership to co-found the Texas Digital Access Coalition (TDAC) and advocate for reliable, accessible, and affordable connectivity for all sectors of our state. Aiming to address this challenge from a broader lens, TDAC is bringing together not only advocates for education but also representatives from the healthcare and workforce development industries and from rural, urban, and suburban community employers. In today’s world, digital access is tied to success in school, work, and every aspect of daily life.
TDAC will advocate for a comprehensive plan and long-term funding to address disparities across the state caused by inequitable digital access. It is critical that all Texans have access to affordable connectivity and devices needed to utilize programs and services that support and enhance educational opportunities; increase the availability of telehealth services; and that help adults prepare for, secure, and advance in jobs and careers; and participate in e-commerce.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a 21st Century truth – digital access and digital literacy are essential. They level the playing field throughout all aspects of our lives. Texas PTA is excited to be working alongside not only our friends in the education sector but also with those who serve the welfare of our students and families through healthcare, workforce, and commerce.