Taylor Batten

Enough of the studying. Here’s someone actually tackling the economic mobility problem

Harding freshman Jayla Mcduffie shows off a laptop she got this month from E2D.
Harding freshman Jayla Mcduffie shows off a laptop she got this month from E2D. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark was at an Opportunity Task Force meeting Thursday. It was the 25th time the group has met. She got up to leave early.

“I said, ‘I’ve gotta go.’ I said, ‘The work you’re doing is incredibly important around helping this community think thoughtfully and intentionally about how we change being 50 out of 50 in terms of born-in-poverty, stay-in-poverty. But I’m actually going to an event where people are doing (something about) it.’

“I said, ‘An 8th grade student figured this out. If the adults in this community can’t get on the wagon, then shame on us.’”

Clark was talking about Franny Millen, who sparked a movement four years ago when she innocently asked her parents, “How do kids without a computer do their homework?” Her follow-up question was even more important: “What are we going to do about it?”

She and her parents, Pat Millen and Eileen Keeley, created E2D, short for eliminate the digital divide. Its mission: To get a laptop and internet access into the homes of the 60,000 lower-income CMS children who currently lack that. So far, they’ve provided computers to 1,800 families.

Some of the problems affecting this community are so big and hard to wrestle to the ground: the achievement gap between whites and minorities in CMS; the lack of economic opportunity and mobility for so many residents.

Millen and the folks at E2D are attacking one narrow but important slice. To have equal educational opportunity in the 21st century, kids must have the technology needed to do their homework and, indeed, research the world. Almost half of CMS students don’t have that at home, and they fall further behind.

This challenge, unlike so many we face, can be solved fairly quickly if businesses and philanthropists get on board. Charlotte companies replace thousands of laptops each year. If they give the old ones to E2D, and if Sprint, Verizon and others help with connectivity, the digital divide could be erased in short order.

Pat Millen told me he thinks every CMS child could have a laptop at home within two years. Superintendent Clark told a crowd celebrating E2D’s work Thursday night that she thinks it could be done in the next two months.

Earlier this month at ImaginOn, E2D gave out 500 laptops to students from five high schools. Less than two weeks earlier and just a few hundred yards away, protests broke out over the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

Many of those protesters were bringing attention to the lack of opportunity much of Charlotte faces. Millen likes to think that some of the students who were given E2D laptops will get an education and have opportunities that some of the protesters never did.

The Scott shooting and the low social mobility ranking have prompted Charlotte to study ways to provide opportunity to far more people. The Opportunity Task Force has been working on it for nearly two years. A group of CEOs announced Thursday they’ll spend $500,000 exploring how to expand pre-kindergarten.

Those are important efforts and I hope they produce actual measures to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. E2D, though, is already moving the needle and, with a little help, is poised to do much more.

To help or learn more, go to www.e-2-d.org