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Udall, Heinrich Introduce Legislation To Ensure All Students Have Access To Internet During Coronavirus Pandemic

The current public health emergency is exacerbating a longstanding “digital divide” and requires immediate action by Congress

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with 44 of their Democratic Senate colleagues, have introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation aimed at ensuring all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill is the Senate companion to legislation recently introduced by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), but makes one important change: increasing the appropriation from $2 billion to $4 billion. Education groups had originally identified the $2 billion figure believing the crisis would last only through this academic year. As more educators have come to realize the crisis will last far longer, need has only increased.

“Thousands of students across New Mexico and the nation are relying on broadband access to complete the school year due to this unprecedented global pandemic. However, the digital divide between those who have internet access and digital devices at home and those who do not has exacerbated the homework gap – especially in rural, Tribal, and low-income communities across New Mexico,” said Udall. “It is our responsibility in Congress to support all students’ education so that every student has the resources they need to learn. We must bridge this divide, invest in our young people and ensure no student gets left behind.”

“Now more than ever, as many schools remained closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access is vital for students to continue their education. Closing the digital divide and connecting students with online resources and assistance will be key to ensuring their academic success," said Heinrich. "I am proud to support this effort in the Senate and will continue to fight for long-term federal investments in broadband infrastructure in rural communities and Indian Country to ensure that every student in New Mexico has access to the internet.”

“For Santa Fe Indian School, on-line teaching and learning as well as remote mental health services, hinge on the ability to use the Internet to connect to our students across 22 reservations in New Mexico. Internet connectivity has proven to be the greatest challenge. Our experience tracks a 2016 FCC broadband report noting that 41% of people living on tribal lands lack access to broadband, with the deficit jumping to 68% for those living in rural areas. Native students deserve to have the same opportunities as students on the other side of the digital divide," said Superintendent Roy M. Herrera, Santa Fe Indian School. “We support this legislation because we know that the educational program doesn’t stop at the property line. Leveraging the E-rate program to extend learning into student homes is a critical response to COVID-19 and to prepare for the future of education.”

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the “digital divide” experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework. Research has shown that the digital divide 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. In 2019, New Mexico only received just over $40 million out of the nearly $2.3 billion nationally. 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.

The Emergency Education Connections Act is led by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash,), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.

Specifically, the Emergency Educational Connections Act would:

  • Provide $4 billion in federal support for elementary and secondary schools and libraries, including tribal 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;
  • Allow schools and libraries to continue to use the equipment after the emergency period; and
  • Ensure schools and libraries prioritize support for those most in need, following the guidelines of the E-Rate program.

As the coronavirus pandemic develops, the E-Rate program offers an immediate solution that may help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families. Additional funding for E-Rate would greatly narrow the digital divide during the current crisis and help ensure that all students can continue to learn.

The Emergency Educational Connections Act is supported by the following organizations: AASA The School Superintendents Association, Advance CTE, Alliance for Excellent Education, American Federation of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, AFLCIO, American Library Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, ASCD, Association for Career and Technical Education, Association of Educational Service Agencies, Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), Children's Health Fund, Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Committee for Children, Common Sense Media, CoSN - Consortium for School Networking, Council for Exceptional Children, Council of Administrators of Special Education, Family Centered Treatment Foundation, First Focus Campaign for Children, Girls Inc., IDEA Public Schools, International Society for Technology in Education, KIPP Foundation, Learning Forward, Magnet Schools of America, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, National Association for Music Education, National Association of Counties (NACo), National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS), National Association of Independent Schools, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), National Catholic Educational Association, National Center for Families Learning, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), National Education Association, National Forum to Accelerate, Middle-Grades Reform, National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium, National Rural Education Association, National School Boards Association (NSBA), Parents as Teachers, Public Knowledge, Project Tomorrow, Public Advocacy for Kids (PAK), SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association), Schools Healthy & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Stand for Children, Teach For America, The Education Trust