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Austin libraries receive funding to help low-income students

Thursday, October 22, 2020 by Miriam E Jewell

With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing a dramatic rise in the number of online classes and amount of schoolwork, some students in low-income households, who may not have access to the internet or own a personal computer, are being left behind.

According to 2018-2019 Austin ISD student data, more than half of students in the district were considered economically disadvantaged. These young people come from households with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level, and often lack the resources necessary for online learning.

In hopes of helping students overcome the digital divide, Austin City Council approved a grant from the Texas State Library & Archives Commission of almost $50,000 last Thursday. The funds will be awarded to the Austin Public Library to purchase mobile hot spots and laptops, which will be available for checkout by students in need.

“This is such a challenging time for all of us, but especially for our students and educators,” Council Member Leslie Pool said. “We need to make sure we are doing what we can to provide ample resources and bandwidth for our young people, and for everyone in the community.”

Austin Public Library Director Roosevelt Weeks said that the hot spots and laptops will allow students to have access to their schoolwork and other resources that the students would otherwise lack.

“There is a huge divide when it comes to kids not having access to technology,” Weeks told the Austin Monitor.

The new devices will be added to the libraries’ available circulation and will be distributed in the same manner as books and materials, according to Weeks. Students will be able to check out the devices from the library for an extended period of time.

“We will give them all out, and they can have them as long as the school year is in session,” Weeks said.

Before moving forward with distribution, the library branches must determine how many devices they will be able to purchase with the grant. Weeks expects the grant to benefit a large number of students who are in need of technology resources.

“We think that those who are in need will feel an immediate impact on access to their school work, access to the internet itself and access to the resources we have in our libraries,” Weeks said. “I know we won’t be able to address all the need that is out there, but we are trying to target as many people as we possibly can.”

Council members acknowledged the digital divide that was made more apparent during the switch to online classes, and all of them supported the grant for the libraries.

“We are all adjusting to online life, and we need to make sure our residents have the equipment and the Wi-Fi access to thrive in this new normal,” Pool said.

Photo by Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

This story was written by a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. The Austin Monitor is working in partnership with the UT School of Journalism to teach and publish stories produced by students in the City and County Government Reporting course.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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