Democratic Senators are asking congressional leaders to fund K-12 internet access in the next pandemic response package. The lawmakers want the phase 4 package to include funding for the government’s most extensive educational technology program, known as E-Rate, to guarantee all students have access to online virtual learning programs during the pandemic.
In a letter to congressional leaders (pdf), senators stated their “disappointment with the lack of funding dedicated for distance learning” in the recently signed $2 trillion “CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.” relief package.
The Phase 3 package includes $30 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund for states, school districts, and institutions of higher education for costs related to the CCP virus.
Opponents of the additional $2 billion for E-Rate are suggesting that states allot a part of the $30 billion phase 3 to expand the internet for students instead of including it in further pandemic relief packages.
But the 34 senators see a different need. “We request that the next coronavirus relief package include at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with Wi-Fi capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home,” wrote the senators.
“The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the “homework gap” experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework—at a time when more than 70 percent of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet access,” the senators continued.
U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on Friday, together with 31 of their colleagues sent the letter to Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
With the pandemic causing schools’ short and long-term closures, over 55 million children across the United States are having to homeschool and use virtual learning platforms.
According to the most recent Education Department data, out of the approximately 9.4 million children ages 3-18, 94 percent have a computer at home, but only 64 percent have internet access.
“With tens of millions of students at home and educators seeking ways to deliver instruction, every student needs the technology to ensure they don’t fall behind. Our request of $2 billion to address the ‘homework gap’ is a drop in the bucket in a multi-trillion-dollar bill, and Congress should correct this omission in its next relief package, much like Speaker Pelosi, and Leader Schumer had proposed for this package,” said Lily Eskelsen García, National Education Association President.
“Congress must address this issue by providing financial support specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education,” the democrats continued, “We believe providing funds to the E-Rate program is the best way to help students continue their education at home.”
The E-Rate program was set up to provide discounts when assisting schools and libraries in the United States in obtaining affordable telecommunications and internet access. This program is also known as the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).