Senators Markey, Van Hollen, and Bennet Lead Colleagues in Urging GOP to Ensure All Students Can Remotely Continue Education during Coronavirus Emergency

The current public health emergency is likely to exacerbate a longstanding “homework gap” without immediate action by Congress

 

Washington (March 22, 2020) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) today led 17 of their colleagues in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, urging them to support robust funding for all K-12 students to have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the ongoing pandemic in the next version of the coronavirus relief package. The Senators expressed their profound disappointment with the coronavirus relief package that Senate Republicans proposed today for its failure to included adequate funding for students to learn at home.

 

“Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education,” write the lawmakers in their letter to Leader McConnell and Chairman Wicker. “Congress must address this issue by providing additional financial support for home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”

 

Also signing the letter are Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

 

In their letter, the lawmakers specifically request at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with Wi-Fi capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home. 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 — at a time when more than 70 percent of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet access. 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. Without Congressional action, this existing inequity will only be exacerbated by the high number of schools that are suspending in-person classes and have transitioned to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff.

 

Senator Markey is the author of the original E-Rate program, which was created as a part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The program is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet. As the coronavirus pandemic develops, the E-Rate program offers a solution that may help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families. Additional funding for E-Rate would greatly narrow the homework gap during the current crisis and help ensure that all students can continue to learn.

 

Full text of the letter can be found below.

 

 

March 22, 2020

 

The Honorable Mitch McConnell                                           The Honorable Roger Wicker

Majority Leader                                                                      Chairman

United States Senate                                                               Committee on Commerce, Science, Washington, DC 20510                                                          and Transportation

                                                                                                United States Senate

                                                                                                Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Leader McConnell and Chairman Wicker:

 

We write to express our profound disappointment with the coronavirus relief package that Senate Republicans proposed today. In its current form, this legislation fails to provide sufficient funding to help ensure that all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the ongoing pandemic. We believe that Congress must provide robust resources for these purposes, in order to guarantee that all children are able to continue their education during the current public health emergency. Simply put, we cannot bail out the airline industry to the tune of tens of billions while providing only pennies for our nation’s children.

 

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 — at a time when more than 70% of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet access. 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.

 

We are concerned that this existing inequity will only be exacerbated by the high number of schools that are suspending in-person classes and have transitioned to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff. Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education. Congress must address this issue by providing additional financial support for home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.

 

We specifically request that you include at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with Wi-Fi capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home. The E-Rate program is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet. As the coronavirus pandemic develops, this program offers a solution that may help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families. We believe additional funding for E-Rate would greatly narrow the homework gap during the current crisis and help ensure that all students can continue to learn.

Congress must act in light of the unprecedented disruption that the coronavirus has created for our education system. We must work to close the homework gap and ensure that all students who need internet access have the connectivity they need to continue learning from home.

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Due to the closure of many Senate offices during the coronavirus outbreak, physical signatures are unavailable. The listed senators have asked to be signatories to this letter.

 

Sincerely,

 

Edward J. Markey       

Michael Bennet                                   

Chris Van Hollen

Jack Reed                                                       

Tim Kaine

Richard J. Durbin      

Mark R. Warner

Kamala D. Harris      

Bernard Sanders

Margaret Wood Hassan

Tammy Baldwin

Richard Blumenthal

Ron Wyden

Sheldon Whitehouse                                       

Amy Klobuchar

Cory Booker

Angus King

Jacky Rosen

Robert Casey, Jr.

Catherine Cortez Masto

 

CC:     The Honorable Charles E. Schumer, Minority Leader, United States Senate

The Honorable Maria Cantwell, Ranking Member, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

 

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