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Meng Urges House and Senate Leaders to Ensure Students Have Internet Access for Remote Learning During COVID-19 Crisis

May 11, 2020
Press Release
Congresswoman sends letter calling for her $2 billion Emergency Educational Connections Act to be in the next coronavirus relief package

QUEENS, NY – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) announced today that she led 103 Members of Congress in a letter to House and Senate Leadership calling for her Emergency Educational Connections Act (H.R. 6563) to be included in the next coronavirus stimulus package.

The Emergency Educational Connections Act would provide $2 billion to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program to ensure all students have internet access during COVID-19. Under the bill, schools and libraries, including Tribal schools and libraries, who receive E-Rate funds would be able to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-connected devices to help students without broadband participate in remote learning during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented public health crisis that has forced millions of Americans to shelter at home, including over 55 million students who have transitioned to remote learning environments,” said Meng. “Even before the pandemic, there were nearly 12 million students without internet at home—part of the so-called ‘homework gap’—and with 7 in 10 teachers assigning online homework, these students in the homework gap faced an uphill struggle to complete online classroom assignments. Many were forced to seek out public spaces for free Wi-Fi connections, or forgo completing their assignments. In today’s COVID-19 pandemic world of shelter-in-place and extended school closures, this gap is more like a chasm. In New York City, which has the largest school system in the country at 1.1 million students, more than one in five households with school-aged children lack broadband access. Without secure and reliable internet access in the safety of one’s home, learning will stop – and this will lead to unimaginable long-term socio-economic consequences. That is why we must redouble our efforts to provide funding to close the digital divide. The $2 billion in the Emergency Educational Connections Act is a down payment for our kids’ success, and I will continue to fight for its inclusion in the next coronavirus relief package.”

"We thank Rep. Meng for her leadership on this issue and for introducing the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020,” said the Homework Gap Coalition. “We believe that the challenge facing millions of students across the country that lack home internet and access demands and requires a dedicated funding source, which Rep. Meng’s Emergency Connectivity Fund would provide. Without it, millions of students will be left behind."

The FCC’s E-Rate program provides discounts of up to 90% for broadband to and within elementary and secondary schools (public and private), and public libraries in rural and nonrural areas.

A copy of the correspondence can be viewed here, and the text of the letter is below.

 

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Dear Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader McConnell, and Minority Leader Schumer:

We are grateful for your swift and steadfast leadership in securing the well-being and economic health of our nation. As you craft the next coronavirus relief package, we request the inclusion of the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020, H.R. 6563. The Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020 will ensure schools and libraries, including tribal schools and libraries can purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices to provide internet connectivity to students during this unprecedented time.

As you know, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, schools across the nation have closed—many for the remainder of the school year. This has impacted over 55 million students across 124,000 U.S. public and private schools.[1] For millions of students without internet access at home, they face an uncertain educational future that could have long-term consequences for their overall success.

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, however, the ‘homework gap,’ had proven to be a pernicious problem. According to Pew Research, 15 percent of households with school aged children did not have internet access based on 2015 Census data, and some studies have estimated that as many as 12 million students may lack internet access at home.[2] These trends, unfortunately, are even more pronounced for minorities and low-income households.[3] Before the pandemic hit, about 7 in 10 teachers assigned homework that required internet access; today, schools across the country have moved learning entirely online, including class meetings, explanations of new content, virtual field trips, homework, and learning exercises. Students without internet service will fall further behind as students with internet service at home can continue advancing in their studies. Whether they live in urban centers, suburbs, or exurbs, or small communities in rural America, all students require internet connectivity to succeed during this pandemic.

We were grateful to see a provision in the House Democrats’ Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, that would have provided $2 billion in funding to provide students with Wi-Fi hotspots and internet-enabled devices for the duration of this health crisis. Unfortunately, this provision was not included in the Senate’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. We must correct this omission, which is why we strongly urge the inclusion of the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020 in the next package. This legislation would empower the Federal Communications Commission to disburse $2 billion from a special Emergency Connectivity Fund to schools and libraries, including tribal schools and libraries.

As the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic continues and millions of Americans are asked to stay home for the sake of everyone’s health, we must ensure our most vulnerable constituents—including students—are not left behind. We thank you for your leadership and attention to this critical issue.

Sincerely,

# # #

 

[1] “Map: Coronavirus and School Closures,” Education Week, March 6, 2020, https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html

[2] Kim Hart, “The Homework Divide: 12 million schoolchildren lack internet,” Axios, December 1, 2018, https://www.axios.com/the-homework-gap-kids-without-home-broadband-access-3ad5909f-e2fb-4208-b4d0-574c45ff4fe7.html

[3] Brooke Auxier & Monica Anderson, “As schools close due to the coronavirus, some U.S. students face a digital ‘homework gap’,” Pew Research Center, March 16, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/16/as-schools-close-due-to-the-coronavirus-some-u-s-students-face-a-digital-homework-gap/