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CLOSING THE “HOMEWORK GAP”: Nearly 200 School District Superintendents Urge FCC to Modernize Lifeline Program

Nearly 200 school district superintendents urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modernize the Lifeline program in an attempt to help close the “homework gap,” through a letter organized by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission. The district leaders asked that Lifeline—which served more than 12 million households last year with discounted monthly telephone service—provide affordable, high-quality broadband service for low-income families so that students are able to access the internet at home.

The absence of internet service at home creates a divide between students who are able to access assignments and engage in supplementary learning outside of schools hours, and those who do not have the same capability. This “homework gap” could be remedied through the modernization of the Lifeline program. With telephone service alone, the program assists families in finding jobs, accessing health care services and providing general support. With the inclusion of broadband service, the program would aid students in their education and bring the power of technology home to combat the nation’s persistent achievement gap.

“Having access to broadband internet at home will increase connectivity and opportunities for those who play vital roles in the lives of students outside the classroom—parents, guardians, other relatives, and community members,” the letter reads. “Lifeline support for broadband service, including wireline and wireless services, will create communities of lifelong learners and support systems that can further raise achievement and success throughout the country.”

The superintendents’ voices join others who have called for modernization of Lifeline, including FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who said in a recent statement, “We all agree that we have entered the broadband era—except Lifeline has not. The transformation from a voice-based service to a broadband-based service is key to Lifeline’s future.” In addition, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted that 5 million out of the nation’s 29 million households with school-aged children lack access to broadband.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also supports Lifeline reform. “For broadband to reach its fullest potential, to improve the lives of every American, it must be both affordable and ubiquitous—if it is not, it will become just another barrier that separates the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’… the program should be focused on being part of a pathway out of poverty, poor education, lackluster healthcare options, and more.”

Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise says modernizing the Lifeline program is a “critical step” in closing the “homework gap” and producing high school graduates with twenty-first-century skills and competencies. “With the inclusion of discounted broadband service, the FCC can prepare the nation’s students to compete in an increasingly global workforce,” Wise said.

A coalition of more than 140 religious, civil rights, seniors, disability, technology, and veteran groups also submitted a letter to the FCC in support of Lifeline modernization. The letter touched on the necessity of internet access in the home as it applies to education. “Broadband is essential for anyone who goes to school or seeks to further enhance their skills,” the letter reads. “Seven in ten teachers assign homework that requires the internet and yet 5 million households with children don’t have home access, leading to a ‘homework gap.’”

The superintendents’ letter to the FCC is available at

https://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/LifelineSupportLetter_SchoolLeaders.pdf.

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