FCC commissioner throws weight behind new ‘homework gap’ bill
Two congressmen introduced their own Digital Learning Equity Act in the House last week, modeled after proposed Senate legislation, which would try to close the so-called “homework gap” and provide low-income students with access to technology outside of the classroom.
But the announcement was given a high-profile boost Tuesday with the presence of a Federal Communications Commission official, who did not have a hand in crafting the legislation but who has shown up to numerous events and written op-eds to highlight the issue.
Jessica Rosenworcel, who has been an outspoken advocate for families and students unable to access the Internet after school hours for homework, appeared alongside bill co-sponsor Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., during the announcement at Hunt Middle School in Burlington, Vermont.
The other co-sponsor of the legislation, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.V., was not at the event. A spokesman for the congressman did not respond to questions about his whereabouts.
The bill would establish broadband services in community centers, nonprofits, libraries and other places kids typically frequent after school, like the Boys and Girls Club, so that they can get work done after school.
“We know that seven in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access, but data … says that one in three households does not have that access,” said Rosenworcel, according to local news channel WPTZ.
She also released a statement later in the afternoon that echoed comments she has made at past events.
“The homework gap is the cruelest part of the digital divide,” she said, according to the statement. “Today, too many students are unable to complete their school assignments because they do not have Internet access at home.”
This was the first time Rosenworcel appeared alongside a lawmaker during an announcement of a bill that was introduced, Travis Litman, one of her legal advisers, told FedScoop Wednesday.
“The congressman invited her to speak on it as he unveiled his bill,” Litman said. “She is open to traveling anywhere to talk about the homework gap, so it was a great opportunity.”
Rosenworcel has also spearheaded efforts to update the FCC’s Lifeline program to provide the option of a $9.25 subsidy, normally used by low-income Americans for landline or cell phone service, for broadband service.
The commission voted 3-2 on the revisions in June. The first round of public comments was accepted last month, and the next round will be considered this month.
Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, told FedScoop that Rosenworcel’s voice on the issue has been significant.
“We’ve seen Commissioner Rosenworcel be a very strong advocate for digital equity,” said Patrick, who also praised her work on modernizing the FCC’s E-rate program, which allows schools to subsidize broadband services. “The Internet is certainly becoming as important as most basic utilities are for running schools, like water and electricity. It’s certainly an important utility for learning.”
The digital equity legislation comes after Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., introduced a similar bill in June. If enacted, the Department of Education would have to conduct a national study on the so-called “digital divide,” including detailed information about how a lack of Wi-Fi in poor families’ homes impact student achievement and outcomes.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @clestch.