The start of the new school year brought a return to in-person learning for some students, but many schools continue to hold classes online. In today’s interconnected world—amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—children can’t do their schoolwork without an internet signal at home. Nearly 17 million students across America do not have access to high-speed internet. The problem disproportionately affects children of color, those from low-income families, and students who were already behind in their learning.
Young people are going to great lengths to attend virtual classes and do their work. Some have fired up their laptops from the parking lots of fast food restaurants with free Wi-Fi; others are trying to complete assignments on their family’s cell phone. School systems, likewise, are doing all they can to get students connected. But the digital divide is too great a problem for schools to solve on their own. Educators should not have to bear the immense burden of getting thousands upon thousands of their students a home internet connection.
The core mission of our schools is to educate children. It is the federal government’s responsibility to act in the public interest when there is a clear and compelling need—as there most certainly is now. The federal government must work with internet service providers and others to create a comprehensive and lasting national solution for universal broadband. If it fails to do so, the current crisis will further harm children and families, exacerbate inequities, and contribute to serious economic decline, effects that would be felt for generations to come.
Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, is working to ensure every student has the technology and connectivity they need to learn. This brief outlines innovative practices from across our membership and calls on the federal government and industry to end the digital divide and #SendTheSignal to every home in America.