'Coloradans for the Common Good' & Allies Leverage $20M for Digital Infrastructure, Say More is Needed
After 'Coloradans for the Common Good' and educator union leaders engaged their membership around the impact of the digital divide on teachers and students, they organized virtual summits to publicize what they learned and to begin to build a constituency for change.
Behind the scenes, state lawmakers began crafting legislation to address some of those frustrations, ultimately passing a bill that will provide $20 million in grants for districts to broaden internet access to their students. The monies are part of a state stimulus package developed in a special legislative session.
At its third virtual summit on the subject, the short-term stimulus was announced and celebrated. However, CCG leaders understand that the grants won’t ensure every young Coloradan has reliable access to the internet and plan to continue working for longer-term support.
[Photo Credit: Valerie Mosley/Colorado Sun]
Access to Remote Learning a Challenge in Rural Communities, Colorado Springs Indy [pdf]
A family in the San Luis Valley has made an X in masking tape on the kitchen counter. It’s the only place a remote hotspot works so the children can access remote school lessons. A mother who runs a hair salon in Commerce City brings her daughter to work with her. It’s the only place she can access online learning using her mother’s hotspot. But it means the mother has problems running credit cards at the same time. A third of students in the South Routt School district south of Steamboat Springs don’t have internet access. Teachers, parents and school superintendents told these stories during the Internet Access Summit Wednesday calling for affordable and universal internet, faster download and upload speeds and higher data caps, and training to ensure families can access quality connections.
The virtual summit, sponsored by Coloradans for the Common Good, a coalition of education, labor and faith-based groups, included teachers, school officials, elected officials, and representatives of internet service providers Comcast, Verizon and T-Mobile. “It’s frustrating,” said Toby Melster, superintendent of the Centennial School District in San Luis, Colorado. He estimates about 30 percent of his students are falling behind simply because they don’t have a high-quality internet connection. He said companies have donated some hotspots but because there are multiple people in a family who need to go online, “they’ve got to make a decision about who gets access to the hotspot...”
As Colorado Schools Reopen, Thousands of Students Still Don't Have Reliable Internet, Colorado Public Radio [pdf]
Coloradans for the Common Good Helps Comcast Close Digital Divide and Include Immigrants in Nationwide Program
[Additional background from the Colorado Sun:]
In March, Comcast began offering [a] discounted service for free for 60 days to new families. The service usually costs $9.95 per month and caters to low-income households. Comcast also increased the service’s internet speed to 25 mbps and plans to continue making it free for 60 days to new eligible customers for the rest of 2020. The company is also offering free public Wi-Fi through the end of the year.
But the Internet Essentials program didn’t necessarily appeal to everyone who qualified. Coloradans for the Common Good this spring approached Comcast to ask the internet giant to modify its application, which asked for Social Security numbers even though other forms of identification were acceptable.
That deterred some immigrant families from attempting to enroll in the service. Coloradans for the Common Good — composed of churches, community organizations and teachers’ unions — reached out to lawmakers and Comcast’s corporate leaders pleading for change. After a series of email exchanges and Zoom meetings, Comcast adjusted its application nationwide to better reflect the variety of identification forms accepted. That change took effect in June, said Marilyn Winokur, co-chair of Coloradans for the Common Good.
“We want to get as many, many families that don’t have internet access to have the access that they need in order to participate in remote learning should it happen again,” Winokur said.
[Photo Credit: Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun]
Big Wins on Internet Access, Fair Wages for School Workers, Coloradans for the Common Good
[Photo Credit: Nathan W. Armes/Chalkbeat]
Comcast has made its low-cost program, called Internet Essentials, free for two months to families that qualify for programs such as food stamps or subsidized school lunches. But....undocumented families may not have the identification required to sign up for free internet service or may not feel comfortable providing it.
“We want to work with you to ensure equity of access for all of our students,” said a letter that the advocacy group Coloradans for the Common Good sent to Comcast executives Monday. “We hope to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss potential solutions.”
The letter was signed by faith leaders and the president of the Colorado Education Association, as well as the presidents of several local teachers unions, including Denver and Jefferson County....
To sign up for Internet Essentials, Comcast asks for a Social Security number. If a person doesn’t have one, Comcast instructs that person to take a picture of themselves holding their identification or to bring that identification to a company store.
Emilio Ramos, a social worker who works at two Denver elementary schools, said he’s heard from families where the parents are undocumented and don’t have a Social Security number.
He said parents are afraid that if they admit they’re undocumented and also provide their photo and personal information, that information could be flagged in Comcast’s system and shared with the government, making them a target for arrest or deportation.
Originally, the free internet was available to families who signed up by mid-May. Comcast has extended the deadline to June 30, a step praised by Coloradans for the Common Good, the coalition of labor union and faith leaders that pushed for the change.
Press Conference Video, Coloradans for the Common Good
When Sandra, a member of El Carmen Catholic Church in San Antonio, attempted to join her son at his elementary school for lunch, she was barred from entering the campus due to a district policy that parents present a Texas ID. Sandra does not have -- and cannot obtain -- a Texas ID. When COPS/Metro leaders requested a meeting with the Superintendent to discuss the policy, they were denied.
Soon, 55 COPS/Metro leaders from El Carmen Catholic joined Sandra at the next Southside ISD School Board meeting and stood by her as she directly addressed the board. “I want to be part of his education. I want to be there every step of the way. But the district is not allowing me to do so at this time, and I would like that to change.” COPS/Metro is requesting a change to the policy so that all parents can access their children's schools.
That night, the Board President alerted leaders that the Board would work with COPS/Metro to resolve the issue. Officials from the district also agreed meet with leaders to resolve the issue.
[Photo Credit: Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio]
San Antonio Parents Without Texas IDs Barred from Southside ISD Schools, Texas Public Radio
Southside ISD's ID Policy Has Some Parents Complaining it Leaves Them Out of Kid's Schooling, San Antonio Express-News
With 500 leaders from 22 member institutions, community delegates gathered on a Thursday night to publicly launch and celebrate the founding of 'Coloradans for the Common Good.'
“We are not relying on special interest groups to define our agenda,” proclaimed Pastor Del Phillips, of the House Worship Center and the Colorado Black Leadership Coalition, “so we are going to make financial commitments -- as member institutions -- so that we are our own special interest.”
New member institutions were joined by a dozen guest organizations from Denver, Aurora, Commerce City and Jefferson and Boulder counties.
Leaders also conducted some nonpartisan public business with Denver School Board candidates, asking 12 individual candidates if they would support a community-driven agenda, including recruitment and retention of teachers of color, investment in students’ social/emotional support, and support for a traditional, comprehensive high school in the Denver far northeast neighborhood. Almost all candidates agreed.
Press Statement, Coloradans for the Common Good
Against Major Odds, Nevadans for the Common Good Pushes Payday Lending Reforms through the State Legislature
During a three-month house meeting listening campaign and nine months of research actions and civic academies, leaders from 'Nevadans for the Common Good' (NCG) unearthed dramatic stories about payday lending entrapment, lack of housing affordability and concerns around public education.
In response last fall, NCG organized nonpartisan accountability sessions with gubernatorial candidates, including now-Governor Sisolak, in which leaders secured candidate commitments around school funding, affordable housing, and consumer protections from unlawful payday lending practices
In 2019, NCG launched a campaign generating 4,000 postcards calling on state legislators for $500 million in new state funding for public schools, and $40 million for an affordable housing tax credit program and improved payday lending enforcement across the state. NCG leaders incited an impassioned fight with the payday lending industry over Senate Bill 201, which would establish a payday lending database to track short-term, high-interest loans to better protect consumers.
In the face of formidable odds -- and an army of paid lobbyists -- NCG mobilized waves of faith and civic leaders to testify before key committees to make the case for better protections for financially vulnerable families. In March, ten leaders met with 17 legislators in one day. In April, fifty leaders filled a hearing room in support of reforms. The following month, to distinguish themselves from paid lobbyists, 50 more leaders donned white at an Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee hearing. In response to one leader's testimony about the impact of predatory lending practices, an assembly member responded, "We are tired of waiting for something to be done to protect our families and communities!"
NCG leaders succeeded in pushing Senate Bill 201 through the Senate and Assembly. The bill is now headed for Governor Sisolak's desk to be signed.
Oped: Payday Lending Measures are Common Sense for the Common Good, Nevada Independent
Payday Lending Opponents, Industry Clash in Charged Hearing Over Loan Database, Nevada Independent
Texas IAF Advances EDAP Legislation for Economically Distressed Areas & Continues Push for Restoration of ACE Funding
One month after 300 Texas IAF leaders descended on the Capitol to call for investments in human development, delegations have been visiting the Capitol daily to engage legislators around school finance, the ACE fund, payday lending and infrastructure support for economically distressed areas.
Legislative allies in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso crafted a proposed constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of bonds by the Texas Water Development Board for projects in economically distressed areas. The proposal is almost to the finish line.
With ACE funding already in the draft budget, leaders are working to restore it to its original $10 Million. When economist Marc Elliot from Economic Mobility delivered a presentation on the effectiveness of the Project QUEST job training model at the Capitol, representatives from over a dozen legislative offices attended.
The QUEST model is hailed as the hitting on a "formula with a proven track record" and Texas IAF organizations across the state have applied it in Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.
Texas ACE Fund Return on Investment, Texas IAF
Nine Year Gains: Project Quest's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Not All Programs Fade: New Report on Project QUEST RCT Shows Sizable None-Year Earnings Gains for Low-Income Workers, Straight Talk on Evidence [pdf]
Valley Interfaith Project (VIP) and the Arizona Interfaith Network are working with a bipartisan block of state legislators to advance proposals that would reopen pathways to college for immigrants and ensure funding for children's healthcare.
Senate Bill 1217 would reopen a pathway for immigrant college students that had previously been closed by Proposition 300. Prop 300 prohibits colleges from charging in-state tuition to immigrants if they cannot prove legal residency. By creating a new tuition category based on graduation from Arizona high schools, SB 1217 would allow immigrants to pay somewhere between current in-state and out-of-state tuition rates.
HB 2514 and SB 1134 would work to eliminate the cap for the Arizona CHIP program (Kids Care), which provides healthcare coverage for children from low-income families not eligible for other state services. At this time, federal funding is scheduled to decrease by 10% in October of 2019 (and by another 10% in 2020), thus triggering a state cap on funding for KidsCare. With over 30,000 Arizona children currently uninsured, leaders are working hard to get these bills out of committee and included in state budget negotiations.
Hundreds of Texas IAF leaders bused into the Capitol from El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and West Texas, joining Central Texas Interfaith counterparts to call on state legislators to increase spending on adult and K-12 education.
After a morning briefing on school finance, the Texas Innovative Career Education (ACE) program and other issues -- including Medicaid, payday lending, and infrastructure in the colonias -- leaders were recognized with a House resolution in support of the ACE program.
300 leaders then convened on the South steps of the Capitol where they were joined by state legislators who pledged to continue working for investments in people. The following spoke in support of the ACE fund and increased public school funding: Central Texas Representatives Vikki Goodwin, John Bucy, Erin Zwiener, Gina Hinojosa and James Talarico; El Paso area representatives Joe Moody, Mary Gonzalez and Art Fierro; North Texas legislators Victoria Neave, Terry Meza, Julie Johnson, John Turner and Ana Ramos; and from San Antonio, Phillip Cortez.
In photo above, the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson from TMO (Houston) kicks off the press conference with leaders from San Antonio (COPS/Metro), Dallas Area Interfaith, Central Texas / Austin Interfaith, West Texas Organizing Strategy (WTOS), El Paso's Border Interfaith & EPISO, and the Rio Grande Valley (Valley Interfaith). After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators representing their geographic regions.
Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult Education, Univision 62 [Spanish video]