The Remote Learning During COVID-19 Initiative
We are calling for Congress to appropriate $5.25 B for a "Remote Learning During COVID-19” initiative, so that schools and libraries can provide home broadband, end-user devices, and cybersecurity to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, the State E-rate Coordinators Alliance (SECA), and Funds for Learning (FFL) have developed a proposal for Congress to provide one-time funding so that school students, teachers, and library patrons can obtain broadband at home, end-user devices (such as laptops and tablets), and cybersecurity to address the COVID-19 crisis. We are asking Congress to include this legislation in the next coronavirus relief legislation that may be brought up for a vote in the very near future. Over 1,900 organizations and individuals have signed on to support the draft bill.
The Problem: Schools and libraries across the country are largely closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are unlikely to resume full operations for the foreseeable future.[i] As a result, nearly all educational and learning-related activities have been moved online. Regrettably, in some school districts, 20 percent[ii] to 80 percent[iii] of students do not have access to high-speed broadband internet at home. This is much worse than a “homework gap”; it is a “learning gap” that means students cannot benefit from online education and adults cannot enhance their job skills or work remotely. The lack of broadband at home causes educational inequity and raises constitutional “equal protection” concerns.[iv]
The Research: Funds for Learning analyzed Government Accountability Office and National Center for Education Statistics data and found that approximately 7.15 million families cannot afford to pay for broadband at home. FFL estimates that $5.25 billion is needed to ensure that these families have adequate broadband and devices.
The Proposal: The proposed "Remote Learning During COVID-19 Act" appropriates $5.25 billion to an emergency fund administered by Federal Communications Commission to connect students, teachers, and library patrons to broadband at home. The bill reflects the new reality that the traditional classroom model has had to shift to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to keep students and teachers safe and healthy.
The Key Provisions: The “Remote Learning During COVID-19” bill includes the following key provisions:
- It provides one-time emergency funding of $5.25 billion to the FCC for the creation of a remote learning initiative.
- It provides funding for home broadband service, broadband network equipment, and end-user devices including laptops or tablets.
- It provides funding for cybersecurity so that schools and libraries can protect their networks against ransomware and cyberattacks, which have been on the increase.
- It ensures that all broadband providers are eligible to participate (provider-neutral).
- It explicitly allows schools and libraries to extend their existing networks to serve the surrounding community without jeopardizing their existing universal service funding, including for backhaul.
- It directs the FCC to set funding caps for each school district/independent school and library to ensure fiscal integrity and ensure schools and libraries know how much funding is available for their planning purposes.
- It allows expenditures back to the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency declaration.
- It streamlines and expedites the application review and approval process so that schools and libraries receive their funding soon after the bill’s passage and are prepared to provide online instruction and learning in the fall.
[i] “In many districts, officials have said it's still unclear whether students will be able to return to the classroom by next fall. And even if they do, many are planning for social distancing measures that could make school look radically different from the past.” https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/04/28/us/politics/ap-apus-virus-outbreak-reopening-school.html.
[ii] “The Maine Department of Education estimates 20 percent of the state’s 180,000 pre-K to grade 12 students don’t have functional internet at home.” https://www.pressherald.com/2020/04/05/for-thousands-of-maine-students-without-home-internet-access-remote-learning-is-an-extra-challenge/#.
[iii] “One of the least-connected school districts on this map is the rural Red Mesa Unified District in Arizona, where the majority of students are Native American. More than 80% — nearly 1,700 households — don’t have internet access, according to 2015 census data. But it’s not just a problem for rural communities: In Laredo Independent School District in the city of Laredo, Texas, nearly 14,000 households, or 53%, don’t have internet access.” https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/03/coronavirus-online-schools-homework-internet-access-homework/608116/.
[v] The percentage subsidy varies from school district depending on the level of poverty and rurality. See, https://www.usac.org/wp-content/uploads/e-rate/documents/samples/Discount-Matrix.pdf.
[vi] Schools may be able to use funding from the Education Stabilization funding made available in the CARES legislation enacted by Congress in April 2020. See, https://oese.ed.gov/offices/education-stabilization-fund/states-highest-coronavirus-burden/.
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