Op-Ed: Cardinals OL Kelvin Beachum says it's time to close the digital divide 

Cardinals OL Kelvin Beachum writes an Op-Ed stating it is time to ensure that marginalized students have technology, Internet access and opportunities to learn.
Cardinals OL Kelvin Beachum writes an Op-Ed stating it is time to ensure that marginalized students have technology, Internet access and opportunities to learn.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., now president and CEO of The Education Trust, said, "If Black lives matter, shouldn't Black brains matter too?"

Recently, I participated in a listen and learn session with the Players Coalition, teachers, principals, superintendents, and other education experts. During our discussion, we heard about educational inequities and the countless challenges our schools face. What stuck with me beyond the conversation was how unacceptable it is that children of color and those from low-income families all too often still are not able to attend great schools and don't have the laptops, tablets, and Internet connections necessary to do their work. Why are these inequities still so vast?

Athletes across the NFL and various other sports leagues have stepped up in major ways to help solve the problems facing society. I have personally dedicated my time and resources to addressing hunger and the water crisis, domestically and internationally. Both personally and through the Players Coalition, I have done work and donated money to ensure marginalized students have technology, Internet access, and opportunities to learn.

Yet much more help is needed. Seventeen million students don't have high-speed Internet at home. Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, highlighted this issue in its recent brief, #SendTheSignal: A Call for Federal Action to End the Digital Divide. The brief pointed to ways that the Players Coalition is supporting connectivity in Chiefs for Change members' systems and explained that the federal government must work with Internet service providers and others to create a comprehensive and lasting national solution for universal broadband. I join the members of Chiefs for Change in calling on our federal leaders to give students the devices and Internet access they need so they can do their schoolwork regardless of whether they take classes in person or online.

Education is a basic human right, and we can no longer deprive students of the tools they need to succeed, including devices and the Internet.

According to EdBuild, a nonprofit that focuses on education funding, school districts that predominantly serve students of color received $23 billion less in funding than mostly white school districts in the United States despite serving the same number of students. We cannot solely rely on athletes and other individual donors to make up the difference. That is not a sustainable model.

When bringing attention to these important issues, I am often met with criticism and told to fund these solutions myself. My question is, why don't we hold our government and multi-billion-dollar companies to the same standards of accountability? We must confront the deeply embedded inequities in our school systems and give every child access to an excellent education.

In my conversation with educators, it was revealed that many students in the district I live in do not have access to the Internet, while those in a district 20-30 minutes away have full access. There is no excuse for this, especially when immediate solutions are possible.

Proposed solutions range from: expanding E-Rate funding to cover technology and connectivity in students' homes; funding to states that would be allocated by formula to support digital equity; competitive grant funding, and subsidies, tax breaks, and low-cost loans to help organizations with a public purpose build reliable and affordable Internet connections.

Our government can also explore sharing existing high-speed connections from public buildings across the United States with the communities surrounding buildings such as libraries, fire stations, community colleges and court houses. Congress can move to fund wireless "hotspot" distribution by public schools and work with companies and service providers to offer vouchers, so payment for access isn't a deterrent for students who cannot afford Internet.

Our government and the effects of lobbyism in our political structure has a habit of placing money in the hands of extremely powerful companies that have proven themselves incapable of helping to fix societal needs if it doesn't have a return on investment. Instead of giving back to the communities that help them prosper, they dodge civic responsibility and continue to further the divide in education and income equality to drive personal gain. The government does the same.

We know the problems facing our students and teachers. We know that Black and brown populations are more marginalized and deprived of both access and resources. It is time to address these issues and reduce inequities in education and eliminate the digital divide. These issues must be a priority with our country's leadership.

Kelvin Beachum is an offensive lineman with the Arizona Cardinals.

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