Louis, Kallos Introduce Bill to Give Students Free Laptops and Tablets

Farah Louis
Farah Louis, a candidate for the 45th District City Council, the office she served as deputy the chief of staff under Jumaane Williams. (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

City Councilmembers Farah Louis (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Marine Park, Flatlands, Kensington) and Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill yesterday that would provide every public school student in the city who needs one with a free laptop and tablet with Internet access and uploaded digital textbooks containing relevant cultural affairs.

The proposal comes as a solution to the many students who lack this important equipment for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to monitor the cost of this ambitious proposal, the bill requires the Department of Education to report on the demographics of which students access these remote learning devices, their housing situations, Internet connections that already exist at their homes, sources of computer funding, and information on all DOE computers by September 1.

Council Member Farah Louis
Council Member Farah Louis

New York City, the largest and wealthiest city in the country, should be more than capable of providing all students ⁠— regardless of race or income ⁠— with a high-quality education and the fundamental skills to excel in their studies. However, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the present-day challenges that Black and brown students must overcome to regularly attend classes and submit their coursework,” Louis said. 

“Without computers or affordable internet access, the achievement gap will only worsen in divested communities. It is the City’s responsibility to accelerate their efforts to bring households into the 21st century, and help secure their future. If we cannot end the racial disparities that exist in the nation’s largest public school system, then we have failed 1.1 million students who deserve a head start in life,” she added.

City Council Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger (D-Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend) came out in support of his colleagues’ bill. “The fact thousands of our kids part from under-resourced communities still don’t have a device is unacceptable and shameful. The only thing worse than over 77,000 kids not having access to technology and the internet is knowingly starting the school year with this alarming data,” he said.

“This legislation that my colleagues and I put forth will immediately account for every child from every zip code having the technology, internet, and quality education they deserve and are constitutionally entitled to.”

Council Member Mark Treyger
Jumaane Williams
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
Borough President Eric Adams
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D) also endorsed the legislation. “The pandemic has exacerbated the same educational inequities that made New York City schools the most segregated in the nation, and deepened the digital divide. By refusing to more fully invest in expanding and improving remote learning this semester, the administration has left thousands of students without the tools they need to get the education they deserve,” he said.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (D) and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (D) also joined Williams in supporting it.

“It is a disgrace that almost seven months into remote learning, there are still more than 77,000 outstanding requests for learning devices from students trying to access their classes. This failure threatens to further widen the achievement gap, which falls hardest on students of color and those with unstable living situations,” said Adams.

“I was proud to stand with Council Member Kallos and Council Member Treyger two weeks ago in calling for greater transparency from the DOE and greater buy-in from our internet service providers, and I am just as proud today to advance these efforts with further partnership from Borough President Brewer and Council Member Louis. This legislation is an important step toward ensuring we get clear answers from the DOE on remote learning so that our most vulnerable scholars do not get left behind during this unprecedented period,” he added.