Bennet, Markey, Van Hollen, Hassan to Introduce Legislation to Address Learning Gap During Pandemic with $4 Billion Increase for E-Rate Program

Senators Cite Growing Need for Funds Due to Pandemic

Denver – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, along with U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), announced that they will introduce legislation to increase funding for the Federal Communication Commission’s E-Rate program, which supports internet connections for schools and libraries, by $4 billion. The increased funding will help ensure that all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The senators plan to introduce the Senate companion to the Emergency Educational Connections Act, recently introduced by U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-N.Y), but with an increased appropriation of $4 billion instead of $2 billion. Previously, education groups had identified the $2 billion figure assuming the pandemic would last only through this academic year. As the likelihood of the pandemic continuing beyond this academic year has grown, so has the need for increased funding. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated our existing ‘homework gap’ and spurred a growing ‘learning gap’ that will have a lasting impact on America’s children,” said the Bennet and the senators in a joint statement. “Given the magnitude of this pandemic and its effects on teaching, we must increase our investment beyond $2 billion to $4 billion. Our students come first, and we cannot allow any of them to fall behind as a result of this crisis. We are proud to enjoy the support of more than 50 organizations that focus every day on educating and protecting our nation’s youth.” 

The text of the bill is available HERE

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the “homework gap”, where an estimated 12 million students do not have internet access at home and cannot complete their homework. Without Congressional action, this inequity will only grow worse as more schools have suspended in-person classes and transitioned 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 55,000 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.

In the wake of the pandemic, Bennet has taken several actions to help close the digital divide. Bennet and his colleagues called for the FCC to work directly with USDA and HHS to ensure that the millions of Americans who are now eligible for SNAP or Medicaid due to job loss or reduction in income are informed that they are also eligible for the FCC’s Lifeline program. Last week, Bennet released a statement responding to the FCC’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report and urging more progress to close the digital divide. Bennet and his colleagues also wrote letters to both the FCC and Senate and House leaders calling for immediate action to help students access the technology they need to learn remotely. In March, Bennet and his colleagues wrote to the FCC to ensure Americans are not disconnected from the Lifeline program during the pandemic. 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. 

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, Project Tomorrow, Public Advocacy for Kids (PAK), SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association), Stand for Children, Teach For America, The Education Trust.