Federal housing officials were in Austin Tuesday — not to give direction, but to learn from the local housing authority's successes in closing the digital divide. The federal government is taking a model for digital inclusion from Austin to other cities around the country.
U.S. Housing Deputy Assistant Secretary Lourdes Castro-Ramirez came to the Henry Flores Education Center in Central Austin to learn more about a program called "Unlocking the Connection." It was started last year by Austin's Housing Authority, and it’s aimed at bridging the digital divide – that's the disparity in access to technology – between housing voucher-holders and more affluent communities. After she arrived, Castro-Ramirez kneeled next to two-year-old Joanna Mendoza.
Every morning, kids like Joanna come to the center to learn, among other things, how to use tablets for educational purposes.
Benjamin Kramer with Austin's Public Television station KLRU runs the program.
"Assuming great attendance – and so far our attendance runs well above 90 percent for the entire 10-week series – they get to keep the tablets," Kramer says.
"Unlocking the Connection" targets the entire family, from the youngest kids like Joanna to the oldest of folks. The idea is that everyone becomes proficient in using technology. Castro-Ramirez says that's one thing she hopes to replicate around the country:
"And so, I'm really, really looking forward to having you all sort of amplify and elevate the work that's taking place here but also to duplicate and expand this effort.”
It’s part of a plan President Obama announced this month to boost access to high-speed internet for low-income families. The White House says less than half of low-income households have access to the internet at home.