Congress must provide billions of dollars in new money for home internet access and computers to reach many students online as several major cities rebuff White House pressure to reopen schools this fall, the National Urban League and other advocates say.
Lawmakers should provide $6.8 billion through the federal E-rate program in the next coronavirus package to close the “homework gap,” the Urban League, Unidos, the National Indian Education Association, and the Alliance for Excellent Education reported Wednesday.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the homework gap, particularly for Black, Latino, and American Indian students,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “Congress must do all that it can to close opportunity gaps in education and eliminate barriers that keep students of color and other vulnerable children from accessing the resources they need to succeed.”
The groups found 17 million school-age children lack home internet connections needed for online learning, and some 7.3 million don’t have access to a home computer to complete classwork.
Internet Access Disparities
The homework gap is especially wide for low-income and minority students. Thirty-four percent of Native American students and almost a third of Black and Latino students are without home internet access. Four out of 10 families earning $25,000 or less have those connections. The report also found large disparities in rural areas, where two-thirds of families don’t have internet at home.
School districts across the country, after switching to virtual instruction in March, purchased thousands of laptops, tablet devices, and wireless hot spots for students. Education groups have said for months that the federal government needs to contribute much more.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) has proposed legislation (H.R. 6563) that would provide $2 billion for home WiFi devices for students. Similar legislation in the Senate would spend $4 billion on home internet access. The Senate proposal was included in a $430 billion education spending package (S. 4112) that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) released last month.
Meng said a fifth of households in her state lack high speed internet necessary for virtual learning.
“Unless Congress intervenes, millions of kids’ futures are at risk,” she said in a statement.
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org