Education groups seek $5.25B to connect students

'Digital equity at home is a civil rights issue for today,' ed tech leader says
By: | April 30, 2020
Billions in E-rate broadband funding in needed this summer if all students are going to have internet access for online learning in the fall.Billions in E-rate broadband funding in needed this summer if all students are going to have internet access for online learning in the fall.

Providing broadband internet access this summer to 9 million students who aren’t connected to online learning would cost more than $7 billion.

A coalition of education organizations is asking Congress to give school districts $5.25 billion in E-rate funds as soon as possible.

The group says educators need to provide secure broadband and computers to students and teachers before the fall, when classes may resume in an in-person/online hybrid.

“It’s an urgent need,” Candice Dodson, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, said in a video press conference Thursday. “We need to deal with it now so schools can use the summer months to get families connected.”


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The remaining $2 billion for connectivity would come from CARES Act funding.

“We believe digital equity at home is a civil rights issue for today,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, an organization for school tech leaders.”We need to close the learning gap.”

Cybersecurity in online learning

Ransomware, phishing and other cyberattacks have increased significantly since schools to classes online.

One reason is that students’ and teachers’ home connections are less secured and some users have been more likely to click on links in phishing emails, Krueger said.

“Every weak spot in the network is avoidable,” he said. “Districts are responsible for protecting vast amounts of confidential student and employee data.”


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Funds For Learning, an E-rate compliance firm that helps schools find funding for broadband, says more than 7 million homes are cut off from the internet because service is either unaffordable or unavailable.

The organization estimates that it would cost $50 per household to connect families for a total of $4.29 billion, Funds for Learning CEO John Harrington said.

Providing the necessary laptops, tablets and other devices would cost $1.79 billion (or $250 per device) while about $1.46 billion is needed for cybersecurity.

“Time is of the essence,” Harrington said. “This is something that needs to happen quickly in order for teachers and administrators to plan for the upcoming school year.”

Broadband

In Congress, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts intends to introduce a companion bill to New York Rep. Grace Meng’s $2 billion Emergency Educational Connections Act.

E-rate is the most logical way to distribute the funds because the program is already entrenched in education and school tech leaders are already familiar with the process, Harrington said.

E-rate also ensure a higher rate of equity because it provides a higher proportion of funds to school and libraries in disadvantaged communities.

E-rate officials could open a special, accelerated summer filing period, he added.

“It’s a trusted system,” Harrington said. “Schools and libraries are under tremendous strain, so we want to see solutions that provide a minimal amount of headaches.”


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