May 12, 2020

Cardin, Senate Democrats Introduce Legislation to Ensure All Students Have Access to Internet During Coronavirus Pandemic

The current public health emergency is exacerbating a longstanding “homework gap” and requires immediate action by Congress

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), joined Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and 43 of their Democratic Senate colleagues in introducing the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation aimed at ensuring all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill is the Senate companion to legislation recently introduced by Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-06), but makes one important change: increasing the appropriation from $2 billion to $4 billion. Education groups had originally identified the $2 billion figure believing the crisis would last only through this academic year. As more educators have come to realize the crisis could last far longer, need has only increased. 

“Access to the internet can be the critical difference in student success during regular times and especially during COVID-19. As students began to shift to a virtual model of schooling, we saw how the technology gap quickly turned into a ‘homework gap,’ leaving many students behind,” said Senator Cardin. “Congress must work quickly to solve the lack of access to broadband and technology so our children can stay connected to their classrooms.”

“We cannot allow the ‘homework gap’ to become a larger ‘learning gap’ during the coronavirus pandemic.” said Senator Markey. “Without immediate action by Congress, and $4 billion in E-Rate funding, the students of low-income families, immigrants, communities of color and rural areas are at risk of being left behind. I am proud to lead xx of my colleagues to introduce Emergency Educational Connections Act, which will make sure all students in America have the connectivity they need. I will fight to make sure this essential legislation is included in any future coronavirus relief package.”

“As the nation battles this pandemic, we have watched family rooms and kitchens become classrooms and computers take the place of blackboards. During these uncertain times it’s imperative that we do not let the education of millions of Americans fall by the wayside,” said Senator Schumer. “It’s time to level the playing field for all students, including those from rural communities, low income families, immigrants, and families of color, which is why we’re proposing major legislation to immediately give the schools and libraries the tools they need to offer hotspots or Wi-Fi capable devices to help students connect, communicate and excel during this challenging time.”

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. Research has shown that the homework gap affects students in both rural and urban areas and disproportionately affects lower-income students and students of color.  Students without internet access at home consistently score lower in reading, math, and science.  This existing inequity is being exacerbated during the current public health emergency as schools suspend in-person classes and transition to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff. 

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.

Co-sponsors of the legislation include: Maria Cantwell (D-Wash,), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and John Tester (D-Mont.).

Specifically, the Emergency Educational Connections Act would:

  • Provide $4 billion in federal support for elementary and secondary schools and libraries, including tribal schools and libraries, to provide Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices (as well as internet service through such equipment) to students, staff, and patrons;
  • Allow schools and libraries to continue to use the equipment after the emergency period; and
  • Ensure schools and libraries prioritize support for those most in need, following the guidelines of the E-Rate program.

“It was never acceptable that millions of kids could not access the internet at home for learning and engagement, but it is particularly wrong during this pandemic when nearly all school children have no choice but to learn from home this semester and, quite likely, this summer and fall,” said James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder, Common Sense Media. “We have heard from teachers and parents in every part of the country about kids struggling without internet access and modern devices at home. That's why this new legislation to connect all students now is vital. And I am optimistic that Congress will agree, on a bi-partisan basis, that we can, and we must, close the Homework Gap and the digital divide in its next stimulus package.”

“For students in rural communities, small towns and big cities, it is critical we invest in expanding their home access to the internet,” said JoAnn Gama, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, IDEA Public Schools. “Closing the homework gap is an issue of academic and economic opportunity everywhere. We can pay a smaller bill now to keep students on track, or face larger costs to our society and economy down the line.”

The Emergency Educational Connections Act is supported by the following organizations: AASA The School Superintendents Association, Advance CTE, Alliance for Excellent Education, American Federation of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, AFLCIO, American Library Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, ASCD, Association for Career and Technical Education, Association of Educational Service Agencies, Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), Children's Health Fund, Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Committee for Children, Common Sense Media, CoSN - Consortium for School Networking, Council for Exceptional Children, Council of Administrators of Special Education, Family Centered Treatment Foundation, First Focus Campaign for Children, Girls Inc., IDEA Public Schools, International Society for Technology in Education, KIPP Foundation, Learning Forward, Magnet Schools of America, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, National Association for Music Education, National Association of Counties (NACo), National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS), National Association of Independent Schools, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), National Catholic Educational Association, National Center for Families Learning, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), National Education Association, National Forum to Accelerate, Middle-Grades Reform, National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium, National Rural Education Association, National School Boards Association (NSBA), Parents as Teachers, Public Knowledge, Project Tomorrow, Public Advocacy for Kids (PAK), SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association), Schools Healthy & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Stand for Children, Teach For America, The Education Trust

###