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Obama Announces $250M Free E-Books Program for Low-Income Kids

(Photo: Brad Flickinger/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Brad Flickinger/Flickr Creative Commons)

President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that major book publishing companies will donate more than $250 million in free e-books to low-income children.

After Spain, the United States has the highest child poverty rate of all major developed nations, with one in every three American children living in poverty. Among minority groups, the poverty rate is even higher, with four out of every 10 black children growing up poor.

Education is the surest way to escape poverty and to that end, President Obama wants to make it much easier for children in low-income households to have access to electronic books. The White House views this latest plan, which according to Reuters will give students access to 10,000 titles, as one component of a strategy to combat poverty and other problems by increasing educational opportunities for impoverished youth.

“We’re going to provide millions of e-books online so that they’re available for young people who maybe don’t have as many books at home or don’t always have access to a full stock of reading materials,” Obama said during a virtual town hall meeting sponsored by Discovery Education at Anacostia Neighborhood Library in Washington, DC, located in one of the capital’s poorest neighborhoods.

Obama stressed the importance of reading and learning, as well as the ability to find and use information. A longtime advocate of universal high speed Internet in schools, the president stressed the best way to do this is by “making sure that you’re plugged in.”

“The truth of the matter is we live in a digital age,” Obama said, adding that e-books are “easy to carry” and that making them readily available for free to those who cannot afford books “can even things out between poor kids and rich kids.”

Jeff Zients, the president’s top economic adviser, cited research showing 80 percent of low-income children perform below their grade level in reading skills, in large part because they do not have access to books at home.

“If we’re serious about living up to what our country is about, then we have to consider what we can do to provide opportunities in every community, not just when they’re on the front page, but every day,” Zients told reporters during a press briefing.

Companies committing to the $250 million program include all five of America’s largest publishing houses: Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH’s Macmillan, CBS Corp’s Simon & Schuster Inc, Penguin Random House, Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group Inc, and News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

Additionally, the New York Public Library is working on an app to connect low-income children with books. The kids will need computers and tablet devices on which to read the books and to that end, numerous companies have stepped up, including Apple, which earlier this year pledged $100 million to Obama’s ConnectEd high speed Internet initiative. Under the program, students in 114 schools will receive free iPads from Apple.

ConnectEd aims to make broadband Internet access available to 99 percent of American students by 2018.

Obama announced the free e-books initiative just two days after calling on the public to “do some soul-searching” following the riots that erupted in nearby Baltimore, Maryland over the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered severe throat and spinal injuries while in police custody.

“If we’re serious about living up to what our country is about, then we have to consider what we can do to provide opportunities in every community, not just when they’re on the front page, but every day,” Zients said, according to US News & World Report.

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One Comment

  1. umbrarchistMay 5, 2015 at 8:59 amReply

    I have been working at a high school for a few months. Talking to the teachers most of them do not know about Project Gutenberg.

    So why don’t we tell kids about the good books among the nearly 50,000 in PG?

    David and the Phoenix (1957) by Edward Ormondroyd
    http://librivox.org/david-and-the-phoenix-by-edward-ormondroyd/
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/27922/27922-h/27922-h.htm

    The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame
    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/289

    The Boxcar Children (1924) by Gertrude Chandler Warner
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42796/42796-h/42796-h.htm

    The Fourth R (1959) by George O. Smith
    http://www.digilibraries.com/ebook/118993/The_Fourth_R/

    Black Man’s Burden (1961) by Mack Reynolds
    http://sfgospel.typepad.com/sf_gospel/2008/08/mack-reynolds-on-africa-islam-utopia-and-progress.html
    http://www.feedbooks.com/book/4826/black-man-s-burden

    Border, Breed Nor Birth (1963) by Mack Reynolds
    http://www.readbookonline.net/read/44240/93267/

    Subversive (1962) by Mack Reynolds
    http://www.digilibraries.com/ebook/115574/Subversive/

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