BALTIMORE — On Tuesday, Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott and Councilman Zeke Cohen announced that the City Council unanimously passed the Children and Youth Fund Permanent Fiscal Agent Ordinance in an effort to help close the Digital Divide.
The bill, which was introduced by Councilman Cohen on behalf of Mayor Jack Young, will allow the city government to provide emergency funding for food access, digital devices and expanded internet connectivity.
“The Coronavirus has locked out far too many of Baltimore’s children from learning," said Councilman Zeke Cohen. "They have been denied their constitutional right to an education. Yesterday, we took a big step toward restoring that right."
Cory Gaber, a 6th grade English teacher, who's currently working with the Baltimore Teachers Union, says when BTU asked teachers what was the number one thing that's been keeping them from connecting with students and parents, they all replied technology. Either students didn't have access to technology and/or internet or they did, but it was very limited because families were being forced to share their resources.
Over 50 organizations sent a letter asking for immediate funding support for internet access and digital devices.
Lisa Molock, the Founder of No One Left Unhelped, also mentioned that several of the families that she's been working with are now in desperate need of food. She says that it's gotten so bad that she's started delivering meals, on a daily basis, to make sure that they're eating.
According to Councilman Cohen, the Baltimore City government will use $6M from the Children and Youth Fund to help supply city youth with food and another $3M for digital devices and to help expand internet access.
“From the very beginning, the Children and Youth Fund was about addressing systemic inequities,” said President Scott. “We know our children need food and digital access right now. COVID-19 is making our disparities clear, and it is hard to imagine a more critical time to invest in closing the digital divide and getting food to those in need.”
President Scott and Councilman Cohen say that they're trying their hardest to get this new technology in the hands of city students as quickly as possible because the longer they remain disconnected, the more they fall behind. They also said that they want them to not only be supplied during the school year, but also throughout the summer.
The Children and Youth Fund has $17M in it and, according to Councilman Cohen, come June 1, another $17M will be added. Therefore, it only made sense for the City Council to fight to access the support that this fund can provide.
Baltimore ranked 261 out of 269 cities, according to the US Census on internet connectivity in 2013, and the Baltimore City Council is hoping to improve on that number.