Nationwide, 16.9 million children and their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning, a phenomenon known as the “homework gap.” All4Ed advocates for better digital access and digital learning, especially for students of color, students living in rural areas, and students from low-income families, to help close the homework gap and prepare students for college, careers, and life.
Federal Tools to Close the Digital Divide
The Schools and Libraries program, or E-rate, provides funding to make internet connectivity and telecommunications services more affordable for schools and libraries. Created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, E-rate provides discounts on the cost of services, with high-poverty and rural schools and libraries receiving additional funds. In 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the E-rate Modernization Order to expand high-speed Wi-Fi access to schools and libraries.
Emergency Connectivity Fund and Emergency BroadBand Benefit
In 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act, invested $7.2 billion in the Emergency Connectivity Fund to help schools and libraries in low-income communities purchase laptops, hotspots, and broadband for students and educators who’ve been learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant down payment toward closing the homework gap. The FCC determined that purchases made between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022 are eligible for reimbursement.
Low-income households can also receive discounts on home internet access and devices through the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program. In the Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law in December 2020, Congress provided $3.2 billion for this program to help households stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible households can get a discount of up to $50/month towards broadband service, as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers. Families are eligible for the program if at least one member of the household receives free or reduced-price lunch, a federal Pell grant, or had a substantial loss of income and meets other income requirements.
Students of Color Caught in the Homework Gap
Emergency E-rate funding and other new FCC programs were needed to address the needs of 16.9 million children caught in the homework gap during the COVID-19 pandemic—unable to login to online classes or access lessons and assignments through a home internet connection during remote learning. Worse, one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households, according to our analysis, lack home internet access, far higher rates than for their White peers.
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