Merkley, Colleagues Continue Fight to Ensure All Students Can Continue Education Online During Coronavirus Pandemic

Merkley, Colleagues Continue Fight to Ensure All Students Can Continue Education Online During Coronavirus Pandemic

The current public health emergency will disproportionately jeopardize education quality for children without internet access

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with 34 of his Senate colleagues, today renewed their push for the robust funding K-12 students need to have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools are closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In their letter to House and Senate leadership, the lawmakers cited their concern over inadequate resources for these purposes—despite their repeated calls for increased funding—in the just-passed congressional coronavirus relief bills.

“Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education,” the senators wrote. “Congress must address this issue by providing financial support specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”

It has been estimated that nearly one-third of American households lack meaningful broadband access, and nearly 12 million children live in homes that lack broadband connection—making it nearly impossible to access remote learning lessons. This digital divide is especially acute for rural Americans, communities of color, and economically disadvantaged communities.

To properly address this critical issue, the senators specifically request at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with internet capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home.

The letter is the most recent action in a series of steps taken by Senator Merkley to expand reliable broadband access during the coronavirus crisis. Previously, the senator sent letters to the CEOs of major internet service providers to call on the companies to suspend policies that limit Americans’ access to internet, and has advocated for protections against electricity and internet shut-offs.

Senator Merkley was joined on the letter by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-UT), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The full text of the letter is available here and follows below.

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Dear Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, and Leader McCarthy:

We write to express our disappointment with the lack of funding dedicated for distance learning in the third coronavirus relief package that recently passed Congress. We have repeatedly called for concrete funding to help ensure that all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the ongoing pandemic. We believe that Congress must provide robust resources for these purposes, in order to guarantee that all children are able to continue their education during the current public health emergency. We request that the next coronavirus relief package include at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with Wi-Fi capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the “homework gap” experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework — at a time when more than 70% of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet access. 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.

We are very concerned that this existing inequity will only be exacerbated by the high number of schools that are suspending in-person classes and have transitioned to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff. Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education. Congress must address this issue by providing financial support specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.

We believe providing funds to the E-Rate program is the best way to help students continue their education at home. The E-Rate program is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet. As the coronavirus 2 pandemic develops, this program offers an immediate solution that may help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families. We believe additional funding for E-Rate would greatly narrow the homework gap during the current crisis and help ensure that all students can continue to learn.

Congress must act in light of the unprecedented disruption that the coronavirus has created for our education system. We must work now to close the homework gap and ensure that all students who need internet access have the connectivity they need to continue learning from home.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Due to the closure of many Senate offices during the coronavirus outbreak, physical signatures are unavailable. The listed senators have asked to be signatories to this letter.

Sincerely,