Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT) and David McKinley (R-WV) recently introduced the Digital Learning Equity Act (H.R. 3582) to ensure students and their families have broadband Internet access in their homes. A companion bill, The Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015 (S. 1606), was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). This bill will help provide students and their families with equitable access to the Internet at home to support family engagement in their child’s education and will allow students to accomplish essential tasks such as completing their homework, applying for colleges, and seeking post-graduation employment.
According to a letter of support sent to House Energy and Commerce Committee leadership by education groups (including NASSP and NAESP), the bill:
- Recognizes that at-home Internet access is a critical component of high-quality learning
- Provides support for an innovative solutions grant program
- Prioritizes rural and high-density low-income schools that often have the least amount of Internet access across the country
- Recognizes the important role libraries play in facilitating access to Internet and online tools during after-school hours and from home
- Requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct a much-needed study into the breadth of the homework gap, as national and statewide statistics are virtually non-existent but extremely crucial to providing the landscape picture necessary to solve the national problem
Some language from the Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015 that requires a study into the breadth of the homework gap was incorporated into the Senate version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) through an amendment also sponsored by King and Capito. Funding for a grant program was not included, but the bipartisan introduction of H.R. 3582 in the House shows support across the chambers and parties for funds to be used not only for a study, but also for a grant program to support students’ access to high-speed Internet in their homes.
Access to high-speed Internet in the home is increasingly important for students across the country. The Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of teachers assign homework requiring the use of high-speed Internet to access assignments, research information, or collaborate with classmates on projects. About 5 million American households with school-age children do not subscribe to broadband access. Without access to the Internet at home, our most vulnerable students are at an even greater disadvantage compared to their peers.
But the problem extends beyond students’ homes and into the schools themselves. According to a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, more than 70 percent of public K–12 schools do not have sufficient broadband to allow most of their students to engage in digital learning activities at the same time.
NASSP has been engaged with this issue, and in September 2014, joined other members of the Education and Libraries Networks Coalition (EdLiNC) in urging the modernization of the E-Rate program, an FCC program to upgrade telecommunications and information services in schools and libraries. In December 2014, the E-Rate program was expanded to include wireless Internet services and the funding cap was increased.
Last month, EdLiNC submitted comments to the FCC regarding the Lifeline program and our belief that the program should be expanded to include broadband services, given the importance of access to broadband Internet for students to complete homework assignments nationwide and for school leaders to communicate with their families.
NASSP will continue to follow this issue and will keep you informed here on the School of Thought blog.