The BellSouth Foundation, the charitable arm of the Atlanta-based communications company, has announced plans for a $20 million effort to improve access to online learning.

The campaign will cover the nine Southern states that BellSouth Corp. serves and will help fund state-led virtual learning programs while seeking to expand computer access to children in poor areas.

“We wanted to be sure all kids, not just the privileged, could be part of the virtual learning movement,” foundation President Mary Boehm said.

BellSouth currently offers service in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The BellSouth Foundation focuses on improving education. In addition to helping bankroll and coordinate state virtual schools–such as the one created in Georgia this year–the foundation will target specific low-income neighborhoods.

In Atlanta’s Carver community, a pilot site for the effort, volunteers will help create a school of technology and work with middle and high school students on programs such as job shadowing and an online algebra course.

The foundation hopes to create at least eight similar sites, one in each state, officials said.

Since its creation in 1986, the foundation reportedly has funded more than 622 grants and operated numerous initiatives, with a total investment of more than $56 million.

Boehm said the foundation’s board decided more than a year ago to pick one specific aspect of education–virtual learning–and focus on it almost exclusively.

The $20 million will be spent over five years, she said.