WASHINGTON - Today, the Seattle Seahawks, Microsoft, Puget Sound Energy, alongside a group of philanthropic organizations, state agencies, and representatives of Indigenous communities, responded to the urgent needs of children and families struggling with digital access by launching the Digital Equity Initiative. As part of the All In Washington relief effort, the newly-launched initiative will provide critical resources to close the digital divide and support remote learning for students across the state as schools return to session. In Washington, 22% of students lack adequate access to high-speed internet connection, and 15% of students lack devices necessary for remote learning.
"As we work to keep our communities safe and healthy during this crisis, we must ensure all children have what they need to access distance learning," Governor Jay Inslee said. "The Digital Equity Initiative is helping to provide thousands of students in Washington with the support necessary to keep up with school while our state recovers from this pandemic. Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed, and the public, private, and nonprofit sectors have come together to make this possible."
The initiative has already garnered the support of several prominent individuals, organizations, and companies. Microsoft is designating $1.25 million of its All In Washington pledge to kickstart the fund, and donations are still eligible for an All In Washington match thanks to Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos - who has pledged to match individual donations up to $1 million per unique donor.
"Digital access is more critical than ever for learning and connecting with teachers and peers," said Jane Broom, senior director of Microsoft Philanthropies. "One tablet, one laptop, and reliable internet access makes all the difference for a student trying to keep up with remote learning. We are proud to support this effort to close the digital divide and help see to it that no child falls behind as a result of this crisis."
Puget Sound Energy has contributed $200,000 to help purchase hardware and provide hardware support , and the new NHL team, the Seattle Kraken, and others will be supporting through social media. The Seattle Seahawks Charitable Foundation, a longtime supporter of digital equity, is contributing $120,000 to the initiative and elevating it through their website. The Seattle Seahawks and Microsoft have also teamed up to support technology needs at Boys & Girls Club of King County. Microsoft has generously donated 300 Surface devices, and the Seattle Seahawks Charitable Foundation is pairing that with a donation of much needed internet hotspots. With Boys & Girls Club of King County supporting virtual learning programs via their all-day programming at Clubs across the County, these donations will ensure all students will be able to log into their virtual classrooms.
"As many students in our community head back to school virtually, equitable access to technology is a significant issue for many families," said Jeff Richards, Seahawks Vice President of Marketing and Community Engagement. "The Seahawks are proud to partner with All In WA to help provide access to the basic technology that will keep students engaged and learning. We are at our best when we come together to tackle fundamental challenges like this in our community. We encourage our fans, partners and everyone who calls this place home to join us in supporting the Digital Equity Initiative."
"It's critical that students and families have the technology they need for remote learning while our state continues to manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Puget Sound Energy Vice President of Customer Operations and Communications Andy Wappler. "PSE is proud to support the initiative's efforts to bridge the digital equity gap in communities that need it most."
Funding from the Digital Equity Initiative will be rapidly distributed through InvestED, a statewide nonprofit that partners with over 600 secondary schools across Washington to provide need-based funding and significantly improve student outcomes.
"School looks different this year, and we must ensure that each and every child has the tools they need to learn in a remote setting. If we fail to close gaps in digital access, we risk leaving thousands of students behind," said Joyce Walters, Executive Director of InvestED. "Our approach is focused on addressing the systemic racial inequities in education and digital access that have been exacerbated by this pandemic - so that we serve our students most impacted by this crisis. As the need evolves, the fund will adapt its focus and approach."
To expand capacity and streamline resources, InvestED will work closely with the WA Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and other government agencies to identify and address needs. Using federal CARES Act funds, OSPI is making nearly $9 million available to provide broadband access to families with low income across Washington. Funds from the Initiative will supplement OSPI efforts, expand local school district capacity by providing hardware and devices, access to hot spots, technological support, as well as boost efforts of community-based organizations working closely with families and students.
"In a showing of how Washingtonians stand together, we have seen schools and communities work closely to fill gaps in learning resources during this pandemic," said WA State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. "This initiative will take the coordination of public and philanthropic resources to a new level, and we are grateful to our philanthropic and corporate partners who are helping to urgently fill support gaps for our students."
"What is at stake is nothing short of the future of our kids - that is the bottom line," said Ben Small, Superintendent of the Central Valley School District in Eastern Washington. "For our communities of color, our Indigenous communities and families, challenges with digital access are not new; they are just made worse by the pandemic.
The Digital Equity Initiative will make a tremendous difference in providing basic necessities to our students and closing digital disparities in our communities." The Digital Equity Initiative is hosted by Seattle Foundation and All In WA - a coordinated, statewide relief effort of nonprofits, community leaders, businesses and philanthropies that support workers and families who have been acutely affected by the COVID-19 crisis. All In WA launched in May 2020 with a goal of raising $65 million to address needs with food shortages, health disparities, housing and small business assistance, and now digital access with the launch of the new Digital Equity Initiative.
To learn more and contribute to the Digital Equity Initiative, please visit allinwa.org/seahawks.
All In WA is a coordinated, statewide relief effort powered by a coalition of philanthropic and community leaders, companies, community foundations, United Way organizations, frontline nonprofits, individuals, and public officials across Washington state. These groups are coming together to provide immediate critical and emergency support for workers and families most affected across Washington State, and to mobilize committed community and philanthropic groups to go All In for WA.