In comments filed on April 23, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to quickly distribute funds from the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) to help close the digital divide in education and give school districts flexibility to distribute them based on local needs. Created as part of the recently enacted American Rescue Plan, the ECF will help provide devices and internet connectivity to students, school staff, and others.

“The Emergency Connectivity Fund is one of the most important developments for public schools during this difficult time,” wrote Anna Maria Chávez, Executive Director and CEO of NSBA. “It is crucial that FCC distribute the funds in an expedient manner that can connect the largest number of students, particularly those traditionally systemically underserved, in a flexible, equitable, and transparent manner.”

NSBA urged the FCC to consider those hit hardest by the “Homework Gap,” defined as a lack of inadequate broadband and internet access in homes for some students. It recommended the FCC look for ways to specifically serve Native American students, students with disabilities, students of color, and students living in rural, remote, and/or high-cost areas. In support of its recommendation, NSBA cited data finding that 34 percent of Native American students, 31 percent of Latino students, and 31 percent of Black students lack high-speed internet access, compared to 21 percent of white students. Additionally, NSBA noted that 45 percent of households making less than $25,000 lack high-speed internet access.

NSBA highlighted the very different challenges that public schools and libraries are facing based on their geographies, economic situations, and other factors. For these reasons, no one solution works for every community, meaning different approaches and technologies may be required.

“For the distribution of the funds under the ECF to be successful and cover the greatest number of vulnerable students, it is important that local school districts be given the flexibility under the rules to enact plans that will work best in their local community,” Chávez wrote.

NSBA encouraged the FCC to distribute ECF funds based on the successful E-rate program—a program already familiar to school and library staff. Using such an approach would ease the application process, reduce already high administrative demands because of the pandemic, and, ultimately, promote participation by the greatest number of school districts and connect the greatest number of students.

Observing that numerous advocates and organizations representing a wide variety of education stakeholders have filed comments with the FCC, NSBA noted the universal agreement around the urgency in connecting all students to the internet.

“While there may be different recommendations proposed how best to meet that goal, the groups universally agree on one primary issue—if millions of American students are not connected to the Internet to help support their learning, their opportunities for future success and the success of the nation are diminished,” Chávez wrote. “NSBA urges the Commission, Congress, the Biden Administration, and other advocates to unite with local school board members to meet this equity challenge and help millions of students have the resources they need to have successful lives.”

NSBA’s complete comments are available here.

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