A student works on computers at Ruggles Elementary (Courtesy of kCura)
A student works on computers at Ruggles Elementary (Courtesy of kCura)

A grant from the Federal Communications Commission is putting Chicago Public Schools’ Computer Science for All (CS4All) program on the fast track.

On Tuesday CPS announced a $37.7 million grant from the FCC will speed up installation of high-speed broadband access in all CPS schools. Under this new plan, all CPS classrooms should have access to wireless Internet by next fall. The city anticipates this will speed up full implementation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s CS4All program by one year, enabling students to have access to web-based computer science classes that are now required for graduation.

“Chicago is already leading the way when it comes to putting computer science front and center, and we are building on our efforts by making sure that technology is as much a part of everyday learning as it is of everyday life,” said CPS CEO Forrest Claypool in a release. “Whether you’re a language student who can talk to other students across the world or a biology student who can see your lessons come to life, technology can make learning come alive.”

The funding comes through the federal E-rate program, which aims to make a gigabyte of Internet speed in classrooms the norm across the US. The update process has already started in 50 schools.

Having Wifi will allow more students to access Internet outside a traditional computer lab, a key change as more Internet usage and edtech tools rely on mobile devices, such as iPads and Chromebooks.

This is also important for low income students. A Pew survey from 2013 found that access to digital tools tends to fall along socioeconomic lines:

“Teachers of the lowest income students are the least likely to say their students have sufficient access to the digital tools they need, both in school and at home. In terms of community type, teachers in urban areas are the least likely to say their students have sufficient access to digital tools in school, while rural teachers are the least likely to say their students have sufficient access at home.”

Meanwhile, computer science jobs have only increased in demand and pay. A recent survey by Looksharp found that 31 percent of computer science majors had a job offer by the time they graduated and the average starting salary was over $66,000.

In response, CPS’ CS4All program has three goals: computer science in every high school by school year 2017, computer science in at least 25 percent of elementary schools by school year 2019, and computer science will be a high school graduation requirement.

“By putting 21st century technology directly in the hands of our students, we are putting 21st century opportunities within their reach,” added Mayor Emanuel. “With this investment by the FCC, Chicago can accelerate our plan to make computer science a graduation requirement for all students, because bandwidth will no longer be a barrier. Building 21st century skills with our children will attract more top employers to Chicago, and will ensure our students are prepared to compete for the jobs of the future.”