Congressman Tony Cárdenas (left) and LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho (right) in a fourth-grade math classroom at Cárdenas Elementary School, where each student has their own laptop that they can take home. (G. Arizon/SFVS)

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Congressman Tony Cárdenas gave a walkthrough of Cárdenas Elementary School to tout the impact of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) on schools by providing students with devices and services to connect them to the internet.

“We, in this district, believe that access to high-speed internet connectivity is a civil right of our students,” Carvalho said. “Without that connectivity, their school day ends with the last bell, which means no other ability to continue their studies at home.”

Through the fund, Andres and Maria Cárdenas Elementary School — named after the congressman’s parents — has received 174 computing devices for students to use at home. Additionally, 131 students were provided LTE service and seven students were provided home broadband service.

On May 30, Carvalho and Cárdenas showed the effects of the fund by giving a brief walkthrough of a fourth-grade math class, where each student had their own laptop to do their work.

“This is critically important for the student, particularly now in the aftermath of the pandemic,” Carvalho said. “We have software, we have digital content they can access. … But beyond that, since we created a family and parent academy, parents can access the same device and the same connectivity to obtain information about their children’s academic performance [and] their attendance.

“Connectivity creates an environmental, indispensable reality for our students and our families.”

The superintendent also said that parents can access the schedule for the school bus, what meals are being served at school and curricular coursework.

The ECF is a $7.171 billion program funded by Congress as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which helped schools and libraries buy the devices and services necessary for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the FCC, California is reported to have received about $950 million in funding from the ECF.

“In this hyper connected society of ours, the digitally disconnected are initially at an academic disadvantage, [but] over time a terrible economic deficit,” Carvalho said. “So providing these opportunities is providing [a] real world education that cannot be substituted for anything else.”

Carvalho continued by saying that LAUSD depends on federal funding and the ECF. He said the district spends around $10 million each month to support the connectivity of students. He also added that the program will be sunsetting within a few months.

“The question for the nation is ‘then what?’” Carvalho asked. “Shall we disconnect our kids from an educational opportunity that now they assume is their right? That cannot be the reality.”

Cárdenas took to the podium next, saying that the funding was to ensure no student was left behind, especially those from low-income families that were hit the hardest by the pandemic.

“I’m here to say how proud I am of LAUSD for already having drawn down $280 million, their fair share of funds that the federal government sent down so schools like this can have every child connected,” Cárdenas said.

Cárdenas expressed his anger towards other members of the House of Representatives who want to cut education programs that benefit schools like Cárdenas Elementary.

“I’ve been doing this for 27 years … I have never been more pissed off in my career to see what some of my colleagues want to do in Washington,” Cárdenas said. “We send funds down to the local level at a mere $2 a meal and some of my colleagues want to say, ‘No, we’re going to cut that from you.’

“That would be a shame if we did such a thing to the people who need us the most.”

When asked if he is pursuing a specific bill or how much money would be needed to keep the ECF program going, Cárdenas said his goal is to preserve the $7 billion that has already been set.

Carvalho clarified that the ECF is a multi-year investment that he feels should be funded on a regular basis. While some members of congress are mostly concerned with national security, the greatest threat to the nation, he said, is young people not receiving an adequate education.

“That’s where radicalized ideologies appear. That is where the undermining of democracy occurs, so for those who are concerned about national security, education is the right investment. Connectivity is the right investment.

“Kids who are in crisis today in the aftermath of the pandemic were the exact same kids who were in the crisis prior to the pandemic. They’re just in a deeper crisis. … For anyone to think that they are no longer in crisis — they’re wrong.”