Kennard Asks NAACP to Support E-Rate
(July 15, 1998) Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard asked the NAACP to adopt a resolution in support of the "e-rate" during a speech at the NAACP's annual convention in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 13.
Kennard stated that "There is a digital divide in this country. On one side of this divide are affluent kids. On another side are low income kids, rural kids, and minority kids." He continued that "technology is dramatically transforming education in this society and, if we don't make sure that all kids have equality of access to technology, the digital divide will only widen."
The schools and libraries program, or "e-rate" for short, is the universal service funded subsidies for telecommunications services, computer networking, and Internet access for schools and libraries. It is run by the Federal Communications Commission, and its Schools and Libraries Corporation. Many in Congress are upset with the way the FCC has run the program. There is a proposal to shift the program from the FCC to the Department of Education, to fund it with the existing excise tax on phones, rather than universal service, and to distribute the money in the form of block grants to the states.
William Kennard did not go into any details about Congressional proposals to reform the e-rate. On Thursday the Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold an oversight hearing at which it will hear testimony from the Government Accounting Office about abuse of the program. Schools and Libraries Corporation President Ira Fishman is also scheduled to testify.
"The e-rate is under attack," Kennard asserted in his speech. "I hope that the NAACP will answer the call to save the e-rate. A resolution in support of the e-rate has been proposed for the NAACP's consideration. I urge this organization to adopt it."
According to Kennard, "The challenge for our generation is to bring equality of access to technology to education. That is the next civil rights challenge for our generation."
Speech by William Kennard. (Excerpt on
Title: "Thinking Ahead"
Location: NAACP 1998 Annual Convention, Atlanta, Georgia.
Date: July 13, 1998.
Let's face it. Students who lack on-ramps to the opportunities of the information age won't have access to the off-ramps into those good jobs of the 21st Century.
Right now not enough of those on-ramps exist. There is a digital divide in this country. On one side of this divide are affluent kids. On another side are low income kids, rural kids, and minority kids.
Only 14% of classrooms in poor and minority school districts are connected to the Internet.
The percentage of white children with home computers is triple the percentage of black and Latino kids.
While enrollment in college computer courses rose 40% in 1996, many minority students show up for college not having had access to networked computers.
In order to fulfill the promise of equality in education for all Americans -- the promise of Brown v. Board of Education -- we've got to make sure every child in America has the tools to compete and win in that new economy.
I have watched the debate about affirmative action in California. Opponents of affirmative action claim that the decline in minority enrollment proves that most minorities are unprepared to compete in the University of California system. Proponents of affirmative action, on the other hand, claim that the decline in minority enrollment proves that there is discrimination in higher education unless it is combatted by preferential admissions.
This debate misses the point.
The problem is that most opponents of affirmative action refuse to take responsibility for improving the K-12 educational system. They are willing to sacrifice the opportunity of thousands of minority high school graduates to make a point -- or perhaps in the hopes that their benign neglect will somehow magically transform education at the K-12 level.
But I also find that too many proponents of affirmative action are unwilling to grapple with the reality that affirmative action is a short-term remedy and not the long-term cure for inequity in our society. Too many are too willing to tolerate a K-12 system that is not working for the majority of minority children in America. They are too quick to excuse the failures in public education that leave too many poor and minority students unprepared for their futures.
The long-term solution is not new. It's as old as Brown v. Board of Education. We must ensure racial equality in education. But the new twist is that technology is dramatically transforming education in this society and, if we don't make sure that all kids have equality of access to technology, the digital divide will only widen.
We have an initiative that will help us do just that.
It's called the education rate, or "e-rate." It provides a way for all of the schools in America to allow kids to learn the technology of the Information Age. And I have taken steps to ensure that the poorest and most rural schools are first in line for this funding.
Some people tell me that, as a nation, we can't afford to make this investment -- this investment to give all children the technological tools that will give them the opportunity to succeed in the Information Age. Well, I am here to tell you that we can't afford not to make this investment.
The NAACP has been at the forefront in support of the e-rate initiative, and must redouble its effort because the e-rate is under attack.
If the e-rate initiative is scaled back even more, or scrapped entirely, minority and rural children will suffer.
We can't let that happen. So join me in the effort to connect our nation's classrooms to the Internet. I need your help. The school children of America need your help.
I hope that the NAACP will answer the call to save the e-rate. A resolution in support of the e-rate has been proposed for the NAACP's consideration. I urge this organization to adopt it.
We are at a pivotal moment in the history of education.
In the time of my grandparents, at the beginning of this century, civil rights leaders fought to make free public education a reality for all Americans. For my parents' generation, at the middle part of this century, civil rights leaders fought to bring racial equality to education.
The challenge for our generation is to bring equality of access to technology to education. That is the next civil rights challenge for our generation.
If we fail to prepare our children for the Information Age, it will not be merely a market failure. It will be a moral failure.
On the other hand, if we create a partnership that enables us to succeed, we have an unparalleled chance to use the new technology to bring the entire world together.