KASB urges FCC to address homework gapScott Rothschild
KASB is partnering with the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Future Ready Schools initiative to mount a social media campaign urging the Federal Communications Commission to improve Kansas students’ access to home internet service.
In the wake of Governor Laura Kelly’s order closing school buildings through the end of the current school year to lessen the statewide impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), KASB is urging the FCC to take emergency action to bridge the “homework gap” that hampers Kansas public school students’ ability to continue to be educated online during the pandemic.
The campaign urges the FCC, chaired by Parsons, Kansas native Ajit Pai, to allow E-Rate funds to be used for home internet access.
Messages will include the hashtags #ActNowFCC and #HomeworkGap and use Pai’s Twitter handle @AjitPaiFCC and the Commission’s handle @FCC.
A sample message is, “Our most vulnerable students are in crisis and are left unconnected. @FCC @AjitPaiFCC you and Congress can help them right now by supporting their school districts and allowing #ERate to be used for home internet access #ActNowFCC #HomeworkGap.”
What is the “homework gap”?
Although most Kansas school buildings have broadband internet access, home internet access continues to be a problem commonly known as “the homework gap.”
Kansas public schools have adopted Continuous Learning Plans that use a combination of online, packets, and small-group, in-person instruction to deliver content through May of this year. Despite their best efforts to provide students with laptop computers, mobile devices and WiFi “hotspots,” many Kansas districts are reporting the homework gap has broadened among a concerning number of students who are unable to complete the online work assigned by their teachers. The problem has been exacerbated by the public health-related closure of public libraries and other WiFi-equipped public buildings and the statewide “stay safe at home” order.
The homework gap is expected to persist after the pandemic subsides.
On March 26, just over a week after Kansas became the first state to close school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, KASB joined 300 education groups in a letter urging the FCC to make E-Rate funds available to address the homework gap during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have long known that the Homework Gap unfairly hinders the ability of students living in rural areas, students of color, and students from low-income families to fully benefit from many of the educational opportunities made available by modern technology,” the letter stated.
“According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 14 percent of children had no internet access at home in 2017, with major equity gaps—12 percent of White students had no internet access at home, compared to nearly 20 percent of Black and Latino students and 37 percent of Native students. While these figures have always been alarming, it has never been more important to address this inequity than it is right now.”
The Commission has not responded to the March 26 letter. Additionally, a request by KASB and others for $2 billion in dedicated nationwide funding for home internet access for students was not included in the $2 trillion CARES stimulus act that became law on March 27.
Background on E-Rate:
The E-Rate program provides discounts to schools and libraries to ensure affordable access to high-speed broadband. Originally capped at $2.25 billion in disbursements per funding year, the Commission increased the cap in 2015 by $1.5 billion. In 2018, the E-Rate cap was $4.06 billion and demand for actual support was $2.77 billion. Kansas received $12.7 million in E-Rate funds in FY 2019.
KASB’s legislative policies, affirmed by locally-elected school board members in 285 Kansas school districts, support access to affordable broadband service for all Kansas students, families and schools along with continuation and modernization of the E-rate program to ensure equitable access to telecommunications, broadband and high-speed learning options for schools, students and their families.
E-rate is a valuable tool to enhance education in rural areas and to help school districts set and meet technology goals but may not fulfill its purpose if not supported by the Trump Administration, which has proposed capping E-Rate funds. KASB opposed that proposal, which is still under review at the FCC.