When President Joe Biden signed the massive American Rescue Plan Act into law on March 11, most headlines focused on the overall size of the $1.9 trillion relief package, as well as the individual payments residents would receive. While those aspects are certainly worth noting, parents especially should be happy to know a sizeable portion of the legislation sets aside money to support education.
According to the National Association for Music Education, the legislation provides $126 billion for K-12 schools, $40 billion for higher education, $2.75 billion for private schools and more than $6 billion for programs within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA.
Of particular importance is that the American Rescue Act provides the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) E-Rate program with $7.1 billion in an Emergency Connectivity Fund. This fund is specifically set to address the homework gap, or inequality of opportunity, students who don't have internet access at home experience. Though many states, school districts and even private businesses tried to provide internet hardware and services to students, research indicates that one year into the pandemic some 12 million K-12 students continue to experience a lack of internet access, with a disproportionate number of those being students of color or those in rural areas.
The funds can be used by eligible schools as well as libraries to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and other devices to provide staff and students.
“The nation’s homework gap has never been more evident than during this pandemic with the move to remote learning. So, passage of the American Rescue Plan which would create the Emergency Connectivity Fund is welcome news. That’s because millions of students are locked out of the virtual classroom right now. They can’t do daily schoolwork. They’re the kids sitting outside of the fast food restaurant just trying to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go to class," Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a press release. “The Emergency Connectivity Fund could make a major difference in our ability to help these families and students.”
In addition, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) reintroduced The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act on March 11. If the legislation were to become law, it would provide $94 billion to expand broadband infrastructure, as well as authorize FCC's E-Rate program to make school buses Wi-Fi enabled.
Learn more about the K-12 digital divide here or read the report below: