Bennet, Markey, Schumer, Cantwell, Van Hollen, Schatz, Hassan Lead Colleagues on Legislation to Ensure All Students Have Internet Access During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Public Health Emergency is Exacerbating a Longstanding “Homework Gap” and Requires Immediate Action by Congress

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) led 39 of their Democratic Senate colleagues in introducing the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation aimed at ensuring all K-12 students have adequate devices and home internet connectivity during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The bill is the Senate companion to legislation recently introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), but the Senate bill will increase 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. 

“Today more than ever, not having access to the internet means not having access to a classroom,” said Bennet. “Millions of kids are now falling further behind because we failed to make connecting their families a national priority. We can’t waste another day, which is why we’re proposing a major expansion to the E-Rate program to help schools and libraries buy the mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi enabled devices to help students stay connected in this difficult period. At the same time, we must recommit to making the long-term investments needed to connect every home to affordable, high-quality internet so that we never again put America’s kids in this position.” 

“We cannot allow the ‘homework gap’ to become a larger ‘learning gap’ during the coronavirus pandemic.” said 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 39 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 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. The pandemic has only exacerbated this inequity as schools suspend in-person classes and transition to remote learning to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff. A recent report by the nonprofit Colorado Futures Center found that there are 54,000 school-age children in Colorado with no internet access at home. Two out of three of these students are Latino, and six in ten have a parent who works in an essential job. 

As the coronavirus pandemic develops, the E-Rate program offers an immediate solution to help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families. Additional funding for E-Rate would greatly narrow the homework gap during the pandemic and help ensure that all students can continue to learn.   

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.

In the wake of the pandemic, Bennet has taken several actions to address the homework gap. In March, Bennet, Markey, and Schatz led 13 colleagues in urging the FCC to modify its rules and allow the E-Rate program to purchase mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi enabled devices for students. Bennet followed up by repeatedly urging Congressional leadership to increase funding for the E-Rate program in subsequent emergency relief packages. Over the same period, Bennet also called on the country’s top internet companies not to disconnect families and to waive data caps and overage fees for the duration of the pandemic, while urging the FCC not to disconnect Americans from the Lifeline program, which supports internet access for low-income families. Two weeks ago, Bennet and his colleagues also called on the FCC to work across government to ensure that millions of Americans who are newly eligible for Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) due to the pandemic are also informed of their eligibility for the Lifeline program. In response to the FCC’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, Bennet issued a statement criticizing its conclusion that broadband was being deployed “on a timely and reasonable basis” when millions of students still lack internet access at home.

In addition to Bennet, Markey, Schumer, Cantwell, Van Hollen, Hassan, and Schatz, the legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators 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-Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), 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-Pa.), 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 Jon Tester (D-Mont.). 

The text of the bill is available HERE

“We applaud the commitment of Senators Markey, Van Hollen, Bennet, Hassan, Schumer, Cantwell, and Schatz, and the Democratic caucus, to helping students and educators weather the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President, National Education Association. “This bill will go a long way to closing the homework gap, a particularly pernicious aspect of the digital divide that is especially detrimental to black and brown students and those in poverty.”

“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.” 

“We can't replicate schools at home, but we can provide students and teachers the needed tools, training and equipment to create a new kind of learning environment,” said Ernest Logan, President, American Federation of School Administrators. “The Emergency Educational Connections Act is a key step in that direction. We appreciate the leadership shown by Senators Markey, Van Hollen, Bennet, Hassan, Schumer, Cantwell, and Schatz in this vital area.”

“The nation’s public school superintendents were all too familiar with the homework gap before the COVID-19 pandemic set in,” said Daniel Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association. “The reality is that the pandemic shines a bright light on this not-so-secret reality in education that we as a country have become almost comfortable with the reality that some 12 million students remain without internet access in their home. The nation’s public schools are doing the best they can to ensure educational opportunity to their students as best they can, and it is a deep frustration that something that should be as ubiquitous as home internet access is the very reason 12 million students are unable to engage in remote learning during this crisis. We thanks Senators Markey, Van Hollen, Bennet, Hassan, Schumer, Cantwell and Schatz for their leadership on this issue, and AASA is proud to support the Emergency Educational Connections Act.” 

“Current long-term school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened the urgency to address the inequities of the homework gap, experienced by 12 million students in low-income families and those living in rural areas,” said Dr. L. Earl Franks, CAE,  Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals. “It’s simply unconscionable that because these students lack access to the internet they are being deprived of learning opportunities and are falling behind their peers. The $4 billion boost in E-Rate funds provided in the Emergency Educational Connections Act would go a long way to ensure significantly more students across the country get connected to the internet. The National Association of Elementary School Principals strongly supports this legislation and appreciates the leadership of Senators Markey, Van Hollen, Hassan, Bennet, Schumer, Cantwell, and Schatz on this issue of critical importance for principals.” 

“COVID-19 isn’t just a health crisis, it’s an equity crisis and an education crisis,” said Deborah Delisle, President and CEO, Alliance for Excellent Education. “The Homework Gap is going to widen the achievement and opportunity gaps unless we provide all students with home internet access and devices so they can participate fully in remote learning, particularly those who have been historically underserved. I applaud Senator Markey and his colleagues for introducing this legislation and call on Congress to immediately provide at least $4 billion for home internet access so learning will still occur even if school buildings must be closed.” 

“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.”  

“We thank Senators Markey, Van Hollen, Bennet, Hassan, Schumer, Cantwell, and Schatz for their push to allocate funding to connect underserved children during this unprecedented time,” said Kelly Cole, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, CTIA. “Millions of students are now learning remotely due to this public health crisis, and this will help ensure they have the devices and connections they need to succeed.” 

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, and The Education Trust.