A Federal Commitment to Ending the ‘Homework Gap’
February 01, 2022
Appears in February 2022: School Administrator.
The new FCC chair outlines programs in place to support local schools and students’ online connectivity
Long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, superintendents, educators, and education advocates were speaking out about how it was unacceptable that millions of children in America were falling behind their classmates because they lacked the broadband
access they need for nightly schoolwork.
For years, I’ve championed this cause at the Federal Communications Commission, calling this phenomenon the “Homework Gap” because it is the cruelest part of the digital divide.
But the pandemic was a game-changer for the Homework Gap. Virtually overnight, with no time to prepare, schools nationwide closed their doors and classrooms moved online. We went from having millions of children who couldn’t do online homework assignments to having millions of children who couldn’t do schoolwork at all. With millions locked out of the digital classroom, the Homework Gap became a full-fledged learning and education gap.
All across the country, we saw growing numbers of students stationed in parking lots outside schools, public libraries and fast-food restaurants trying to catch a free Wi-Fi signal so they could go online for class. These heartbreaking images were an all-too-familiar sight for educators, but we’d never witnessed them at this scale.
Educators’ Role in Promoting Connectivity Benefits
Since last May 12, more than 8 million households signed up for the FCC’s temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, the nation’s
largest broadband affordability initiative to date.
The program’s success would not be possible without more than 40,000 outreach partners who signed on to spread the word about the Emergency Broadband Benefit. By distributing outreach materials, volunteering to enroll their neighbors and hosting local training sessions, our agency has been able to build trust in a new federal program in record time.
We’re hoping to do the same as the Emergency Broadband Benefit transitions into its new successor program, the Affordable Connectivity Program. Qualifying households can receive up to a $30 discount, and sometimes more, on their monthly internet bill. Eligibility depends on meeting one of the following criteria applied to one member of the household:
- have an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines;
- receive WIC benefits;
- receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
- receive a federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
- qualify for a participating internet service provider’s low-income program.
School leaders have a role to play in helping the FCC spread awareness about our new broadband affordability program.
The FCC has created shareable materials for organizations and individuals to encourage eligible household enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program. Educators can visit fcc.gov/ACP to download these materials, print them and customize and distribute them as they see fit. That could mean including these educational flyers in weekly or monthly student take-home packets, requesting an FCC training to host an Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment drive or sharing this information through your school district’s social media networks.
We can make significant progress in closing the digital divide when people learn about worthwhile solutions from trusted community leaders, such as school leaders. If you are interested in learning more about the Affordable Connectivity Program, visit fcc.gov/ACP.