April 26, 2021
Philadelphia expanded its free internet services program Monday to include some households with pre-K students who are participating in remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
To qualify for PHLConnectED, households must not have internet access or be restricted to access via their mobile phones. Households experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, and those with students participating in online learning at locations that lack reliable internet access also are eligible.
Households that already have internet access can qualify if they participate in public benefit programs with income qualifications, like Medicaid, or have students designated as English language learners or students who receive special education services.
"Supporting our pre-K community with quality early education tools is essential, and a reliable internet connection is one of those tools," Mayor Jim Kenney said.
"Expanding PHLConnectED to include pre-K households is an important step to continue to help Philadelphia's youngest learners grow and be successful over the long term. The pandemic has continued to show us that internet access is an essential service for all — regardless of age, and I'm glad that more families will be connected by the time they start kindergarten."
Additionally, pre-K students who are moving on to kindergarten this fall will have the opportunity to participate in the school district's summer learning programs, which will consist of 90 minutes of digital instruction and support for two days per week.
PHLConnectED started last year to provide free, high speed internet to K-12 households participating in remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program also encompasses English language learners and students who participate in special education services.
As of late last month, more than 15,000 internet connections have been set up through the program, according to the city.
The latest expansion comes as many pre-K students have transitioned from all-remote learning to the city's hybrid instruction model.
PHLConnectED has provided households with wired broadband internet service through Comcast’s Internet Essential program. Families without permanent housing have received a high-speed mobile hotspot from T-Mobile.
Families have not had to pay out-of-pocket expenses or installation fees. The program also has provided digital skills training and support.
Last spring, the School District of Philadelphia rolled out an effort to distribute 50,000 Chromebooks to students without learning devices after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shut down.
The $17.1 million program is slated to continue through June 2022.
More than $11 million was provided by philanthropic partners. The city allocated $2 million of federal stimulus funding to the program. The remaining $5 million is being covered by the School District of Philadelphia and other schools.
Along with the School District of Philadelphia, several Philly charter and Independence Mission schools have participated in the program.