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As a parent advocate for quality education and equitable opportunities, I firmly believe that all students, regardless of their educational setting, deserve equal access to resources and support. In California, online charter school students have been a growing population, and it is imperative that we address their unique needs. 

Earlier this month, I visited Capitol Hill and met with congressional members and policy staff to discuss two federal programs that can significantly impact the lives of California students—the continuation of the Affordable Connectivity Program and the expansion of the National Free Lunch Program. By providing affordable internet connectivity and access to nutritious meals, we can ensure that online charter school students are treated fairly and given the same opportunities for success as their peers in traditional schools.

In an increasingly digital world, reliable and affordable internet connectivity is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. However, many online charter school students in rural areas face significant barriers when it comes to accessing high-speed internet. 

The Affordable Connectivity Program aims to bridge this gap by providing subsidies to low-income families, ensuring that they can afford internet services. By continuing this voucher program to California, we can level the playing field for online charter school students, enabling them to engage in real-time virtual classrooms, access educational resources and connect with teachers and peers.

By including California in the Affordable Connectivity Program, we can address the digital divide that disproportionately affects rural communities. Online charter school students should not be penalized for their choice of educational setting; they deserve equal access to educational resources and the opportunity to thrive academically. 

Another crucial aspect of supporting online charter school students is ensuring their access to nutritious and healthy meals. Just as students in traditional schools benefit from the National Free Lunch Program, online charter school students should be afforded the same privileges. Many online charter school students come from low-income families, and providing them with access to nutritious meals can have a significant impact on their overall well-being and academic performance.

Dr. Nicole Conragen, of Morgan Hill, is pictured at the U.S. Capitol with Congressman Darrell Issa (left) and President of California Parents for Public Virtual Education Tab Berg. Contributed photo

Expanding the National Free Lunch Program in California to include online charter school students would alleviate the financial burden on families, ensuring that no student goes hungry. There’s no debate that by providing nutritious meals, we can improve students’ focus, concentration and overall health, creating an environment conducive to effective learning. 

As a long-time school choice advocate, I urge Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the California House Delegation to consider the importance of these programs for online charter school students. 

Let us champion equality in education and work together to create an inclusive and supportive environment for all students, regardless of their educational setting. By investing in affordable connectivity and expanding the free lunch program, we take a significant step towards a more equitable and thriving educational system for online charter school students in California.

Dr. Nicole Conragan, a resident of Morgan Hill, is a Board Member of the National Coalition For Public School Options.

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