Several Chattanooga parents from multiple districts voiced their approval of an amended budget that would give money to the Education Connect initiative that would provide internet to low-income families. However, the first speaker was local activist Marie Mott, who said she supported this amendment to the budget.
“We have children who may not have access to internet in their neighborhood,” Ms. Mott said, “and regardless of some rather ridiculous remarks made by certain council individuals, they deserve to have access to these services originally promised to them by our mayor.”
Another speaker was Sunnny Burden, a mother from Red Bank who said her family has benefited greatly from the free and reduced-cost internet. She said having internet has helped her family in ways that go beyond education.
“I am most certainly thankful for how it has helped us, and without it I believe we would be in dire need of other help,” Ms. Burden said. “We use it for schoolwork at home, and other household reasons like paying our bills, doctor visits, and talking to family and friends during quarantine.”
Another mother told the city council that the Education Connect program has been a “savior” for her. She said her child is autistic, and that having cheaper internet has allowed her to work from home, thus giving her an opportunity to help her child with schoolwork.
Danielle Jones was another mother who addressed the council. She said her daughter goes to school on two days, and then does online school on two other days of the week.
“She has to answer whatever question the teacher may put on one of the programs she has at the school. If she didn’t’ have internet, she wouldn’t be able to do that,” Ms. Jones said, who also echoed Ms. Burden’s statements by saying internet has helped with paying bills and communicating with family.
After those constituents addressed the council, Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod brushed against what Ms. Mott said at the very beginning of the open forum.
“No one on council said kids don’t need access to internet. What we said, and I was the council person who said it, was that everybody needs access to internet, not just inner-city kids,” Councilwoman Coonrod said. “Everyone within Chattanooga who has free or reduced-fee lunch needs to have access to the internet. We have to not allow people to mislead us with the wrong information.”
Toward the end of the council meeting, some citizens spoke more generally about the council amending the budget as a whole. One man did say he supported giving city workers raises and giving families free internet, and that he believed now was a good time to look into changing policies and the budget.
“Now that we are revisiting certain budget items, as Mr. Byrd put forward, this would be a good time to re-examine those questions and where we want our city to go.”
Another speaker said that the last time people floated the idea of changing the budget, the council said the budget was like a contract, and could not be altered.
“I find it especially interesting the budget is being reamended against that ‘contract,’” he said. “That line of rhetoric has aged rather poorly, and I urge the council to readdress and review how better the public funds can be spent.”
Other speakers also voiced their support for divesting from the police and into other areas of Chattanooga. After the hour-long meeting was over and the registered speakers had a chance to be heard, the meeting was adjourned.