By: Keith Krueger

Schools across the United States have closed their doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing families to cope with dislocations and new routines. Parents, students, and teachers have struggled to rapidly adjust to this new era of remote learning.

Many organizations are working to help ease this transition. As classes are moved online, CoSN (Consortium for School Networking), the national association of school district technology leaders that I lead, has created resources that prepare districts for this pivot, walk them through key leadership considerations, such as equity, privacy, and accessibility, as well as assist them with tactical decision-making, like using video-conferencing platforms.

What this pandemic has made crystal clear, however, is that this guidance is simply not enough. From the largest cities to the smallest towns, some students lack access to broadband internet at home. In fact, 12 million U.S. school-age children lack the high-speed internet connectivity they need to attend virtual classes from home — a phenomenon known as the “Homework Gap.” Students who live in rural areas, where high-speed broadband internet is often unavailable, are particularly disadvantaged.

Where is the federal government in all of this? Understandably, Congress and the Administration have been consumed with the immediate tasks of containing infection, providing support to individuals and families who have lost their livelihoods, and shoring up businesses. But, America cannot afford to leave an entire generation of students behind.

Here’s what we need Congress and the Administration to do right now:

  •  In the next stimulus package, Congress should provide at least $2 billion to connect students to high-speed internet at home.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should immediately adjust its rules to allow for the emergency use of E-Rate funds to pay for getting students online at home. This requires a simple change to define the “classroom” as the place where a student receives their classes — which, right now, is at home. This E-Rate program is already in place — let’s expand it and fill the gaps that leave students behind.
  • Congress enacted some relief for the nation’s K-12 school districts, but the need has already outpaced the funds provided, and increased K-12 emergency funding is essential. With so many school systems physically closed, and state and local tax revenues falling precipitously, educators, parents, and students need more help.

Over 1,000 educators and advocates agree — and have sent nearly 7,000 letters to their members of Congress to let them know. Please join them by adding your name and contacting your representatives immediately.

As is in so many other areas of American life, the COVID-19 pandemic is turbocharging a change in education that was already underway. Access to high-speed internet at home is a fundamental requirement today, not a nice-to-have option.

With millions of American families forced to make the transition to digital learning with little help or warning, the federal government must provide them with the funding and resources they need to make sure their kids succeed in this new world of virtual school.

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Keith Krueger is the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. You can find him on Twitter at @keithkrueger. 

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