Amid Pandemic, Sens. Wyden, Merkley Look to Close Homework Gap With New Bill

Schools moving to distance learning to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a bright light on the homework gap experienced by 12 million students who lack internet access at home.

In a move to close the gap, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act, which aims to close the digital divide by ensuring all students have access to the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, introduced May 13, would give elementary and secondary schools and libraries, including tribal schools and libraries, $4 billion to provide Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and internet-enabled devices to students, staff, and patrons.

“With education forced to move online in order to keep students, teachers and staff safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access has become even more essential,” Wyden said. “This $4 billion investment is critical to ensure the opportunity for success to all students, not just the fortunate few.”

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.”

The bill is also sponsored by every Democratic Senator – except Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V. – and Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Angus King, I-Maine. The legislation does have a companion bill in the House – H.R.6563 – Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020. The bill, introduced on April 21, was sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and is cosponsored by 84 additional Democratic Representatives.

Kate Polit
About Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs