Cantwell, Markey, Lead Colleagues on Legislation to Ensure All Students Have Access to Internet During Coronavirus Pandemic

Bill comes as COVID-19 public health crisis is exacerbating a longstanding “homework gap” experienced by 12 million students nationwide; 16% of WA households with children have no access to broadband

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, joined Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and 43 Senate colleagues in legislation to ensure all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Emergency Educational Connections Act would appropriate $4 billion to address the so-called “homework gap,” which has only been exacerbated as schools around Washington state and throughout the country have switched to distance learning as a result of the pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the homework gap experienced by the 12 million students in the United States who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework. Research has shown that the homework gap affects students in both rural and urban areas and disproportionately affects lower-income students and students of color. Students without internet access at home consistently score lower in reading, math, and science. This existing inequity is being exacerbated during the current public health emergency as schools suspend in-person classes and transition to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff. 

According to AP, more than 16% of households with children in Washington state have no access to broadband and more than than 10% of these households have no computer. Washington ranks as the 16th most connected state in the country.

“We cannot let this pandemic further the harm the digital divide causes our nation’s students,” said Senator Cantwell. “I thank Senator Markey for his leadership in bringing this solution to close the homework gap to the table and urge my colleagues to swiftly pass it.”

The Emergency Educational Connections Act would provide $4 billion in federal support for elementary and secondary schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices (as well as internet service through such equipment) to students, staff, and patrons. The legislation would allow schools and libraries to continue to use the equipment after the emergency period, and would also ensure schools and libraries prioritize support for those most in need, following the guidelines of the E-Rate program.

The introduction of the legislation today continues Senator Cantwell’s efforts to increase connectivity amidst the ongoing pandemic. At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, Senator Cantwell sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging the FCC to “help facilitate at-home connectivity for students to keep up in class should remote schoolwork become necessary due to COVID-19 closures.”

The Emergency Educational Connections Act is the Senate companion to a House bill introduced by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D, NY-06). Meng’s bill has been included in the House’s recently released COVID-19 funding package, although that version only funds it at $1.5 billion.  The Senate version contains a higher funding level to meet the increasing needs of educators as the crisis drags on. 

Joining Senators Cantwell and Markey in introducing the Emergency Educational Connections Act are U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH). Co-sponsors of the legislation include U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Doug Jones (D-AL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Angus King (I-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mark Warner (D-VA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and John Tester (D-MT).

The full text of the bill is available HERE.