KASB Action Alert: New bills in Congress for home broadband internet

KASB is urging educational leaders to contact Kansas’ U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives to encourage their support of new federal legislation that would help more Kansas students and schoolchildren nationwide have reliable home internet service. 

Nearly-identical bills establishing the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020 have been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House to  provide billions of new funding for home internet access repeatedly requested by school leaders nationwide in the wake of school closures mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate bill calls for $4 billion while the House bill appropriates $2 billion. The National School Boards Association and a coalition of advocacy organizations including the superintendents’ association and the teachers’ unions told Congress on April 29 they now support the increased amount included in the Senate’s bill.

The bills give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to administer the funds through the current ERate program, which serves schools and libraries. They also allow the Commission to authorize the use of some existing ERate funds (which are raised through the Universal Service Fund surcharge on telephone bills) to improve home internet connectivity.  

The funding would allow schools to purchase connectivity devices to provide to students during a COVID-19 emergency. Those without home internet access would receive priority. When the emergency is over, schools would be able to use the devices in any manner they deem appropriate. Schools would be prohibited from selling the devices in the future but could upgrade them.  

KASB members should ask Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts and Representatives Roger Marshall, Steve Watkins, Sharice Davids and Ron Estes to sign on to the Emergency Educational Connections Act and to request it be included in the next federal stimulus bill.  

You can find email addresses for each office here. 

Senator Roberts and Senator Moran should each be sent an email; in addition, an email should be directed to the member of the U.S. House of Representatives who represents your area. Click here for a map of Congressional districts in Kansas. Please contact Leah Fliter at lfliter@kasb.org if you need assistance determining your Member of Congress.  

You should also copy FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on each email you send. His email address is Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov. Pai is a native of Parsons, Kansas and graduated from Parsons High School. 

Here are some suggested talking points to assist you in writing your letter. IMPORTANT: PLEASE PERSONALIZE YOUR LETTER WITH LOCAL EXAMPLES about why your students need better home internet access: 

  • Kansas school buildings have been closed since March 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but learning continues in the state’s 286 public school districts. Districts’ Continuous Learning Plans commonly involve a hybrid of take-home packets and online learning that depends on internet access.  
  • The National Center for Education Statistics estimates 14 percent of school-aged children didn’t have home internet access in 2017 and Kansas was slightly below that national rate; based on those statistics, 70,000 Kansas K-12 students lack access. The gap between internet “haves” and “have-nots” (“the homework gap”) is particularly acute in rural areas without coverage or in high-poverty areas where families can’t afford service. 
  • With schools, public libraries, universities, churches, and other internet-equipped public buildings also closed, the homework gap is even broader for students who do not have internet access at home. 
  • Education advocacy organizations leaders nationwide, including KASB in a March 23 letter from KASB President Shannon Kimball, have repeatedly asked Congress for $2 billion in federal funding and to authorize the FCC to use its authority to help schools purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and connected devices for their students without internet access at home. The money could be funneled through the existing ERate program that serves schools and libraries. That request has not been fulfilled. 
  • The Kansas Congressional delegation can help Kansas students by signing on to the Emergency Educational Connections Act and by requesting it be included in the upcoming federal stimulus bill for state and local governments. 

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