A nonprofit foundation founded by Jim Bernhard and his wife, Dana, is donating $60,000 to pay for home internet for six months for 1,000 students in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system
They will make use of Cox Communication’s Connect2Compete program, which allows low-income families to pay a discounted rate of $9.95 a month for home internet. But even that low amount has proven a barrier for some families in Baton Rouge.
The lack of broadband home internet service in parts of Baton Rouge has complicated the efforts of the parish school system to shift to distance learning since schools were closed March 13 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We know our educators are working tirelessly to engage with students, and families are doing everything they can to fill the void of their classroom teacher,” said Dana Bernhard in a statement Wednesday. “We believe it’s our duty to support these extraordinary efforts any way we can and are glad that Cox is here to support.”
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The couple formed the nonprofit, Every Kid a King Fund, in 2010 when Jim Bernhard was still chief executive officer of The Shaw Group. After selling The Shaw Group, Bernhard in 2015 formed Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm that acquires energy-related companies.
The six months of free internet, available to families with children in the parish school system, will go to the first 1,000 who fill out an online survey and qualify for the program. The winning families will receive a self-installation kit from Cox.
“Access to technology at home is critical to the quality of a student’s education, every day and especially during these unprecedented times,” said Leigh King, vice president, Cox Business Louisiana.
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Along with other cable providers, Cox has expanded its low-cost home internet since the coronavirus outbreak started last month. For instance, families that sign up with Connect2Compete by May 15 get the first 60 days of service free.
David D’Aquin, a Cox spokesman, said Cox does not share information on how many subscribers it has, but he said in the last month, its subscriber base has grown, especially due to Connect2Compete.
“I can tell you there has been a substantial increase in the number of people that have signed up for this program,” D’Aquin said.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system, where about 80 percent of families qualify for public assistance, has many students who no or limited internet access at home.
Taylor Gast, a spokeswoman for the parish school system, said the school district is preparing a fresh survey of parents and their home internet availability as part of expansion of its district learning, including sending home school laptops to some families in Baton Rouge.
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Jim Bernhard is best known for founding The Shaw Group, which he sold in 2012 after 25 years in operation. In 2015, he founded Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm that acquires energy-related companies.
Jim Bernhard also has been active in Democratic Party politics, serving as chairman of the party’s state central committee as well as on the transition team of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.