July 02, 2020

Van Hollen, Markey, Colleagues File NDAA Amendment to Ensure All Students Have Access to Internet During Coronavirus Pandemic

The current public health emergency is exacerbating a longstanding “homework gap” and requires immediate action by Congress

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) have filed an amendment (#2049) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that mirrors their Emergency Educational Connections Act as part of the larger Congressional package. This legislation aims to ensure all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic. The group of Senators previously introduced the bill with nearly the entire Senate Democratic caucus cosponsoring, and Senator Van Hollen introduced legislation in February to address this issue long-term

“We cannot allow the ‘homework gap’ to become a larger ‘learning gap’ during the coronavirus pandemic,” said the Senators in a joint statement. “Without immediate action by Congress and $4 billion in E-Rate funding, millions of students – especially those of low-income families, immigrants, communities of color and rural areas – are at risk of being left behind. We plan to seek any legislative vehicle available to us to make our proposal the law, which will take important strides towards ensuring that all students in America have the connectivity they need to continue their education online during the current crisis.” 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. 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.  This existing inequity is being exacerbated during the current public health emergency as schools suspend in-person classes and transition to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff. 

The full text of the amendment is available here. 

The Emergency Educational Connections Act would specifically:

  • 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.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the E-Rate program offers an immediate solution that may help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families. 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.