Published Sep 14, 2020 by Sophia Guevara
Texas lawmakers say the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized how access to technology impacts residents, including students.
That's what state representatives Christina Morales (HD-145) of Houston and Trent Ashby (HD-57) of Lufkin discussed in a virtual event on September 11. The conversation was par to the Partnership's Future of Texas Business Resource Group.
Rep. Morales discussed the importance of addressing students' access to education. She described challenges students have faced in accessing the digital tools and technology necessary for online learning, summer school and the new academic year. She also talked about challenges with the computer supply chain in securing technology in time for the new academic year.
"They [Texas students] have the right to a free public education," she said.
Rep. Ashby described his shared passion for education and digital connectivity.
"The digital divide exists just as much in inner-city Houston as it does in rural east Texas," he said.
Ashby said he was pleased the state had stepped up with Operation Connectivity to help bridge the digital divide.
"We all have a role to play here, starting with the federal government."
The lawmakers also touched on how telemedicine has improved access to health care. Rep. Morales said it's a critical element for elderly residents in her district.
"I think there are so many health care issues that can be addressed through telemedicine," she said.
Rep. Ashby said with two hospitals closed in his district, telemedicine has provided access to health care, specialists and mental health care for his constituents.
Statewide Broadband Plan
Nearly 90 members of the Texas Legislature sent a letter to Governor Greg Abbott on September 11 encouraging the creation of a statewide broadband plan. 44 states already have such a plan in place.
Rep. Ashby was one of the lead writers and Rep. Morales was one of the lawmakers who signed it.
"In some states, it's a one-pager rubber-stamped by the governor. In other states, it is legislation passed by their legislature," said Rep. Ashby. "Let's get a plan so that the applications that are going to the federal level have a better chance for success. Because ultimately those dollars need to flow to Texas to address the challenges we face in Houston and in rural parts of the Lone Star State."
"It is always exciting to have everyone coming together to solve a problem," said Rep. Morales.
Ashby called the state's digital divide a bipartisan issue. He noted recent legislation passed by Congress to improve connectivity mapping.
"When you start talking about a tight budget - and, of course, we will have a better sense in January when we get the numbers from Comptroller Hegar - I think education and health care are always top of the list," said Rep. Ashby. "The state made some sizable investments of state dollars in public education last session with House Bill 3 [...] I certainly hope that the state will honor our commitment to what we have made as far as investing our most precious resource, our children," said Rep. Ashby.
Representative Morales agreed.
"Children are 100 percent of our future. The future of Texas lies in our children," she said.
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