Today, a coalition of education advocates, including the National School Boards Association (NSBA), petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to close the remote learning gap for the estimated 15 to 16 million students who lack home internet access. If granted, the petition would allow schools and libraries to connect these disconnected learners using funding from the E-rate program.
“When the pandemic hit, homes became classrooms,” said Anna Maria Chávez, executive director and CEO of NSBA. “Many families, already equipped with fast internet connections, adapted as lessons went online and video chats connected students to their teachers. For more than 15 million students, however, remote learning was like trying to learn on a remote island, cut off from essential information and instruction. Permanently closing this ‘homework gap’ will require a major investment from Congress and the Biden administration, but the FCC can take an important first step by using existing E-rate funds to provide temporary emergency help. There is no time to waste. Our students need a life raft.”
Led by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, the coalition includes NSBA, the American Library Association (ALA), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the State E-rate Coordinators’ Alliance (SECA), the Urban Libraries Council (ULC), the Wireless Future Project at New America, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Representatives from these organizations made the following statements in support of the petition:
“Millions of students across the country are cut off from basic education and information services because they cannot access the internet from home. As SHLB and our fellow petitioners have been saying since March, connecting these students to broadband is an urgent national priority, and we must marshal every resource possible to solve this problem. Congress created the E-rate program to bring connectivity to students wherever they may be – whether in the school building or off-campus in their virtual classroom at home. Our petition provides the FCC with the legal and policy framework to give schools and libraries the resources they need to extend service to homes during this time of crisis.” – John Windhausen Jr., executive director, SHLB Coalition
“Across the country, libraries are working to address the current digital divide by providing students and adult learners with internet hotspots, expanded Wi-Fi access on library grounds and Wi-Fi on the go with technology-equipped mobile units. Using existing E-rate authority and funds to close dire broadband gaps through libraries and schools is an effective and efficient way to expand internet access to the students and library patrons who need it most.” – Julius C. Jefferson Jr., president, ALA
"No student should fall behind academically because they lack home broadband. The FCC must move quickly to permit school systems to use E-rate to connect students learning remotely, as well as their teachers, during the pandemic." – Keith Krueger, CAE, CEO, CoSN
“With millions of students and teachers still engaged in remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that we continue to find effective ways to connect underserved households and rural communities. SETDA is pleased to join forces in supporting this petition to allow extended network access to equitably meet student digital learning needs.” – Julia Fallon, executive director, SETDA
“Since the pandemic began, our members have heard daily from school officials about their struggles to ensure their students have access to broadband from home so they can continue their education. Having a short-term, dedicated fund to help schools connect these students to remote learning is long overdue and we hope the FCC takes up the issue as soon as possible.” – Debra Kriete, chair, SECA
“Libraries cannot stand by as children without home internet access are forced to complete their schoolwork while relying on the Wi-Fi available in parking lots and fast-food restaurants — often late at night. Ensuring broadband and digital devices are in every household is essential for closing the education and economic divides, and libraries have a critical role to play in achieving that reality. As trusted and well-connected community anchors, public libraries are critical community partners for connecting the unconnected at home, building digital skills and providing tech support across rural, urban and tribal low-income communities." — Susan Benton, president and CEO, ULC
“Pandemic school closures have turned the homework gap into a remote learning chasm for millions of students in low-income and rural communities. School districts across the country have implemented innovative solutions to connect students at home for remote learning. Under new leadership, we believe it’s time for the FCC to step up and provide the additional E-Rate funding and flexibility our schools and libraries need to invest in what works best for their students, teachers and communities.” – Michael Calabrese, director, Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute
“It is critical that the FCC act now to solve the home access problem for our students. This is an available, easy to implement solution that affects these children no matter where they live, large cities, small towns, and everywhere in between. Every student needs broadband access now and our schools and libraries are critical to make this happen.” – Kurt J. Kiefer, assistant state superintendent, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
The SHLB Coalition is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) advocacy organization that supports open, affordable, high-quality broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. The SHLB Coalition is based in Washington, D.C. and has a diverse membership of commercial and non-commercial organizations from across the United States. To learn more, visit www.shlb.org.
The American Library Association is the foremost national organization for the nation’s 117,000 libraries providing resources to inspire library and information professionals to transform their communities through essential programs and services. To learn more visit www.ala.org.
The Consortium for School Networking is the premier professional association for school system technology leaders. CoSN provides thought leadership resources, community best practices and advocacy tools to help leaders succeed in the digital transformation. CoSN represents over 13 million students in school districts nationwide and continues to grow as a powerful and influential voice in K-12 education. To learn more, visit www.cosn.org.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is a federation of state associations and the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands that represent locally elected school board officials serving approximately 50 million public school students regardless of their disability, ethnicity, socio-economic status or citizenship. Working with, though, and for our state association members, NSBA advocates for equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. We believe that public education is a civil right necessary to the dignity and freedom of the American people and that each child deserves equitable access to an education that maximizes their individual potential. To learn more, visit www.nsba.org/about.
Founded in 2001, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is the principal nonprofit membership association representing U.S. state and territorial educational technology and digital learning leaders. Its mission is to build and increase the capacity of state and national leaders to improve education through technology policy and practice. To learn more, please visit www.setda.org.
SECA members provide E-rate coordination services in 46 states and 1 U.S. Territory. State Coordinators have daily interactions with and provide training to E-rate applicants to assist them with all aspects of the program. State coordinators serve as intermediaries between the applicant and service provider communities, the E-rate Administrator, and the Federal Communications Commission. SECA regularly communicates with the E-rate program administrator, the Federal Communications Commission) and other federal and state policy makers regarding the operation and administration of the E-rate program to convey recommendations and feedback to fulfill the goals of the program. The organization was established in 1997 and is operated by a dedicated team of volunteers. To learn more, please visit www.secaerate.net.
About the Urban Libraries Council:
The Urban Libraries Council is an innovation and impact tank of North America’s leading public library systems. ULC drives cutting-edge research and strategic partnerships to elevate the power of libraries as essential, transformative institutions for the 21st-century. Over 150 member libraries in the U.S. and Canada rely on ULC to identify significant challenges facing today’s communities and provide new tools and techniques to help libraries achieve stronger outcomes in education, digital inclusion, workforce and economic development, and race and social equity. To learn more, please visit www.urbanlibraries.org.
About the Wireless Future Project at New America:
New America is a nonprofit policy institute dedicated to renewing the promise of America. The Wireless Future Project, part of New America’s Open Technology Institute, is focused on developing and advocating policies that promote more affordable, ubiquitous, high-speed Internet connections to all Americans, particularly in under-served rural and low-income areas. To learn more, please visit www.newamerica.org/oti/wireless-future-project/.
About the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:
The Department of Public Instruction is the state agency that advances public education and libraries in Wisconsin. To learn more, please visit dpi.wi.gov.