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Federal Flash: Is the FCC Trying to Limit Wi-Fi in Schools?

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June 24, 2019 03:52 pm

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Is the Federal Communications Commission trying to limit Wi-Fi in schools? Some education advocates think so. Learn why in today’s Federal Flash.

Today’s Flash also covers new bills in Congress on dual enrollment, funding for the U.S. Department of Education, and new guidance from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos intended to provide flexibility to schools.

Limited Funding for Wi-Fi in Schools and Libraries

E-rate, a program of the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, provides funding to make internet connectivity and other telecommunications services more affordable for schools and libraries. The program received a major overhaul in 2014 that prioritized funds for Wi-Fi and raised the annual spending cap from $2.4 to $3.9 billion. The modernization has been a huge success, increasing the number of students with strong broadband in their classrooms from 4 million to 45 million according to Education Superhighway.

The FCC, however, is now proposing an overall spending cap for the Universal Service Fund, or USF, which finances E-rate. On top of E-rate, the USF provides funding for three other initiatives that aim to improve communications for rural and low-income communities. The Republican commissioners proposing the new cap believe it will help make USF programs more efficient, but many advocates fear it will result in the E-rate program competing with the other USF programs for funding. The FCC is accepting comments on its proposal until August 12th, but education groups have weighed in asking the FCC to extend the comment period since most schools are currently on summer break.

Dual Enrollment Bills Introduced on Capitol Hill

Dual enrollment was a hot topic on Capitol Hill last week. On Tuesday, Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia introduced the Go to High School, Go to College Act. The bill would create a pilot program allowing Federal Pell grants to cover the cost of dual enrollment for high school students in up to 250 institutions of higher education. Under the program, high school students would have the opportunity to earn at least 12 college credits on a pathway toward a degree or credential. An estimated 50,000 students would benefit from the pilot. The legislation was also introduced in the House by Representatives Marcia Fudge of Ohio and of New York on June 13.

Bipartisan support for dual enrollment was also evident last week as the House Education and Labor Committee held its fifth and final hearing in a series on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. With the focus on “Innovation to Improve Equity: Exploring High-Quality Pathways to a College Degree,” dual enrollment and early college high schools were discussed frequently during the hearing and endorsed by members on both sides of the aisle.

Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, chairman of the committee, said that the benefits of dual enrollment “are particularly important for underserved students who may be discouraged from enrolling in college because they believe they cannot afford it, or just don’t see themselves as college students.”

View the hearing.

Funding for the Department of Education

The House passed legislation last week funding the Department of Education, Department of Defense, and several other agencies. That’s the good news. The bad news is that no Republicans voted for the bill, so changes will certainly be needed for it to pass the Senate and make it to the President’s desk. Our viewers might recall that the legislation includes some important increases to education programs, such as an additional $1 billion for Title I.

The path forward is murky at best for this and the remaining spending bills. Congress is supposed to pass them by October 1, but Democrats in the House, Republicans in the Senate and President Trump have not agreed on an overall spending limit for the year. The spending limit currently in place was set in 2011 and, if left untouched, would result in across-the-board cuts – an outcome virtually no one supports, either politically or practically. We’ll keep you posted.

New Guidance from Betsy DeVos

Finally, the Department of Education issued guidance intended to provide flexibility to school districts in meeting the policy known as Supplement not Supplant under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that, “schools need to spend resources on what’s best for students, not what’s least likely to come up in an audit.”

We joined Congressional democrats and civil rights organizations in voicing concerns that the guidance goes too far and could result in fewer dollars being invested in low-income students.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the June 24 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The video version is embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at alliance@all4ed.org.

Categories:
Digital Equity, E-Rate, Education Technology, Federal Communications Commission

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