AASA School Superintendents Homework Gap Letter
BACKGROUND

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on one of the worst kept secret inequities for today’s students: the homework gap. The pandemic forced more than 55 million students into a remote learning reality, resulting in an almost immediate struggle to ensure students can access online learning. It is anticipated that 12 million students across the nation lack internet access adequate to support online learning. AASA has drafted a letter, to be sent to all members of Congress, urging them to take immediate action to support all students displaced from their classrooms. Congress must ensure the next COVID-19 funding package include at least $4 billion in direct funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Schools and Libraries Program, commonly called the E-Rate program, to help connect millions of students to the internet so they can continue their education and planning for the possibility of interruptions to classroom teaching and learning during the 2020-2021 school year. Please review the letter and sign your name to the list, making sure to submit your state and district name.

TEXT OF LETTER

Dear Senators and Representatives,

We write today, as public school superintendents, school leaders and educators committed to serving our students, staff, communities, and districts, to urge your strong support to ensure that remote learning for our nation’s school children is a top priority in the next COVID-19 emergency supplemental. Congress must act to help address the homework gap. The path forward is as clear as the problem itself: Congress must provide at least $4 billion in direct funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) School and Libraries Program, commonly called the E-Rate program, to help connect millions of students to the internet at home so they can continue their education in the 2020-2021 school year. Without these funds, the nation’s homework gap and educational digital divide will exacerbate existing inequity among students and learning gaps at an unacceptable rate.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the homework gap was experienced by up to 12 million K-12 students who couldn’t finish their schoolwork from home because they lacked internet access. COVID-19 has created a new reality: schools have physically closed their doors and moved classes online, leaving students without internet behind. Without access to internet, students in low-income families, as well as those who live in areas with low connectivity, including rural areas, are unable to fully access—let alone benefit from—remote learning. The learning environment of our students today bears little resemblance to that of just three months ago: yesterday’s brick and mortar classrooms are today’s Zoom and Teams and Google Hangouts—at least for those with internet access. And as we sign this letter, the reality is that far too many of our students remain without internet access, which means they remain—for all intent and purposes—without educational access.

Congress can and must act to address the inequity. The E-Rate program represents the sole federal technology program to address and support connectivity for students and schools. The FCC has the authority to use the E-Rate to support students experiencing the homework gap to have internet access at home and can quickly make changes to direct appropriated emergency E-rate funds for this purpose. With a proven track record spanning more than two decades, E-Rate is uniquely positioned to support schools and public libraries’ with connectivity, to be used to quickly and efficiently address the homework gap. Having committed over $50 billion in support to schools and libraries since its founding in 1998, the E-rate can certainly handle promptly and efficiently processing the $4 billion in homework gap funding, and ensuring equitable distribution. The E-rate operates under strong guardrails that ensure the program integrity and that funds are accurately and appropriately disbursed. It is both efficient and expedient to move federal dollars through an already existing proven program; and it is much easier to use an existing program than “start from scratch” during an emergency.

We are grateful for bicameral leadership on this issue and are proud to support both the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020 as introduced by Rep. Meng (D-NY) and the forthcoming companion bill requesting $4 billion for 2020-21 academic year to be introduced by Sen. Markey (D-MA). We urge all members of Congress to support the bill in their respective chamber and to include the legislation as part of the next COVID emergency supplemental.

With school buildings closed in every state in the country in response to this pandemic, and 43 states and 4 territories already announcing their schools will not reopen before summer break, the COVID-19 pandemic has struck K-12 education especially hard, and time is of the essence to provide remote and distance learning support. Please act today to appropriate at least $4 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund, administered through the FCC’s E-Rate program, for schools and libraries to support distance and remote learning for millions of students without home internet access through the 2020-2021 school year.

Sincerely,

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