A group of 39 Democratic senators on Tuesday introduced a bill that would appropriate $4 billion to help close the “homework gap” between students who don’t have access to high-speed internet and those who do during the coronavirus pandemic.
The “Emergency Educational Connections Act” is a companion bill to one introduced in the House of Representatives last month by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.). The Senate version of the bill would jump the allotted funding from $2 billion to $4 billion.
The bills would appropriate money to close the “homework gap” in the United States during the pandemic, an issue that has been highlighted as students were forced to be schooled from home as schools across the country closed.
The issue has forced some school districts to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in school parking lots during the pandemic so students without access can get a signal. One estimate says the “homework gap” includes 12 million students.
The issue has generated a great deal of attention from members of Congress since the beginning of the pandemic, with lawmakers calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ease restrictions to a number of its programs to help students get online.
Some lawmakers—and advocacy groups—have called on congressional leadership to make sure broadband and the homework gap is part of the next coronavirus relief bill.
Tuesday’s bill—which was spearheaded by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and others—would use $4 billion to support the FCC’s E-Rate program, which subsidizes schools and libraries to give devices to people that allow them to get online.
It would also allow schools and libraries that receive equipment to keep them after the coronavirus emergency ends.
“We cannot allow the ‘homework gap’ to become a larger ‘learning gap’ during the coronavirus pandemic,” Markey said in a statement. “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.”
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