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United Way Tackles Digital Inequity in Northern Kentucky in Time for 2020-21 School Year

Approximately 10 percent of the 60,000 K-12 students in Northern Kentucky lack Internet service at home.
June 11, 2020

More than 1,000 Northern Kentucky families will receive access to low-cost Internet service in time for the 2020-21 school year under an initiative launched by United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bell and other local partners.

The “NKY Digital Equity Initiative for Students” program is focused on increasing digital equity through pilot programs in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky that will be tailored to meet the needs of local school districts. These pilot programs, which start in June, will help partners identify learnings and best practices necessary to expand the Digital Equity Initiative program to additional public school students throughout the summer.

Approximately 10 percent of the 60,000 K-12 students in Northern Kentucky lack Internet service at home. Digital inequity creates unequal access to information, technology, and opportunities to learn, which further widens the well-documented achievement gap. The ramifications of unequal digital access became particularly clear in March when schools transitioned to remote learning and many students could not participate.

While initial funding from Greater Cincinnati Foundation and Horizon Community Funds will cover 884 Northern Kentucky families, United Way expects to raise additional dollars to cover more than 1,000 families total. Organizations and individuals can support Northern Kentucky fund-raising efforts by texting “NKYWIFI” to 71777. A $78 donation will connect a household for six months of service at $12.99 a month.

“COVID-19 exposed the importance of access to technology, especially when it comes to virtual learning,” said Moira Weir, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “The NKY Digital Equity Initiative for Students program will ensure no student is left behind. Maintaining educational and social ties during COVID-19 is the way to academic growth and positive mental health. I am so glad we could unite so many forces and pave the way for this program. United is always the best way.”

The Northern Kentucky pilot program will focus on districts demonstrating the greatest need -- Boone County, Kenton County, Campbell County, Covington Independent Public Schools, Erlanger-Elsmere Independent, Newport Independent, Dayton Independent, Ludlow Independent, and Bellevue Independent. United Way is working with local districts to identify those students.

Both funders of the project expressed a deep commitment to the cause.

“Horizon Community Funds is proud to support this critical initiative that will lift Northern Kentucky students and promote their success,” said Nancy Grayson, president of Horizon Community Funds. “United Way is the perfect partner for this work, given their strong daily engagement with our community's school districts."

“With the switch to online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, connecting students from low-income families to the Internet has become even more critical to their success,” Greater Cincinnati Foundation President and CEO Ellen M. Katz said. “We have long supported equitable education efforts in Northern

Kentucky, knowing that removing roadblocks to student academic achievement benefits their futures – and the future of our entire region.”

Greater Cincinnati Foundation is also funding a similar project with Cincinnati Public Schools, along with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Interact for Health, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and StrivePartnership.

Northern Kentucky superintendents praised the program and how it will help students.

“This is a great example of the collaborative spirit and power in Northern Kentucky to come together to level the playing field for students,” said Jay Brewer, superintendent of Dayton Independent Schools. “The computer, powered by the internet, are the pencil and paper of the 21st Century. Another barrier to learning has been eliminated thanks to the wonderful work of United Way, Horizon Community Funds, Greater Cincinnati Foundation and Cincinnati Bell.”

Michael Borchers, superintendent of Ludlow Independent Schools, called the United Way/Cincinnati Bell Digital Equity Program a game-changer for the community.

“Ludlow Independent Schools is proud to partner in a project that will help close to the digital divide in our community,” he said. “We are a one-to-one district for technology and this allows our students the opportunity to connect to the educational resources available to them both at school and in their house. As we prepare for a new school year with many uncertainties, we know for sure that our families will be able to digitally connect with us.”

The “NKY Digital Equity Initiative for Students” program continues Cincinnati Bell’s ongoing commitment to supporting students, families, and teachers across Greater Cincinnati.

“It is critical that all students in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have access to education – which means that all students must also have access to the Internet to participate in remote learning,” said Leigh Fox, President and CEO of Cincinnati Bell.

“Cincinnati Bell has invested over $1 billion to build out our fiber network – but that investment means nothing if students can’t access the Internet for school. We are proud to be part of this program and to be working with so many great organizations and individuals on this effort.”


A gift to the United Way enables us to create new and innovative solutions to meet the needs of those in our region educationally, financially and other forms of stability. An investment in the United Way is an investment in us all.

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