HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen was joined by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey to call upon the federal government to include more funding for education in the next COVID-19 relief package.
Senator Van Hollen wants to emphasize the importance of eliminating the inequalities that exist in the education system.
He and Senator Markey held a virtual press conference with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Ernest A. Logan, president of the American Federation of School Administrators to ensure that no student falls behind due to lack of adequate devices or home internet connectivity.
The speakers were requesting $4 billion dollars in funding from the next coronavirus recovery package. This funding would be granted to the Federal Communications Commission. Sen. Van Hollen explained that the FCC has an already existing program to make telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries called the E-Rate Universal Service Program. Sen. Van Hollen believes that the FCC already has the authority to expand the program further to include individual homes of students. He stressed that this funding will give the FCC the resources to carry out the expansion.
Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Van Hollen introduced the Homework Gap Trust Fund Act which aims to close the digital divide that occurs when some students are unable to complete homework and subsequently fall behind due to inadequate or a complete lack thereof home internet.
“What we referred to as the homework gap is now a full-blown learning gap. I mean if you’re a student who can’t connect to your teacher now online, you are falling way, way behind. We need to treat access to high-speed internet in the 21st century as we treated electricity in the 20th century.”
According to the Senate Joint Economic Committee, as many as 12 million students do not have access to the internet at home. Data also suggests that while 70% of teachers assign homework that requires internet access, almost 20 percent of students don’t have home internet access to complete it.
Throughout the press conference, the speakers stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has only created more barriers for students, especially ones that do not have access to the internet.
“During this pandemic, kitchen tables have become classrooms, people’s living rooms have become classrooms and they need that (internet-connected) device. We shouldn’t have to have students going to the local McDonald’s or Taco Bell or wherever it may be in order to get Wi-Fi access. That’s just not right.”
In May, Sen. Van Hollen and Markey as well as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Ranking Member Senator Maria Cantwell, and 40 other Democratic Senators introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act. This legislation provided $4 billion dollars in federal funds to support elementary and secondary schools and libraries as well as tribal schools and their libraries. The funding gave those schools and libraries Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices to students, teachers, and patrons.
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