Staggering new research released today estimates that up to 16 million students lack the devices and connectivity needed to succeed next year. One of the more disturbing findings in the report is that students of color are disproportionately affected, with more than 30% of Black students lacking connectivity. The report from the Boston Consulting Group and Common Sense Media, produced with support from the Walton Family Foundation, estimates it will take $6 billion to bridge the digital divide for these students.
Closing the digital divide is an urgent priority among our collective efforts to increase equity, access and opportunity for students. The ongoing threat of COVID-19 and the health precautions encouraged by the CDC are leading many schools to adopt hybrid models that combine in-school instruction with elements of online learning. Students without the devices and connectivity they need to take advantage of these online learning and hybrid learning models stand to lose another year of learning. On behalf of a generation of students, we simply cannot allow this to happen.
The good news is that there is growing momentum in Congress to address this as part of the next COVID-19 relief package. The House-passed HEROES Act included $1.5 billion for the FCC to address the challenge. Massachusetts Senator Markey has proposed $4 billion. And recently, Mississippi Senator Wicker and Oregon Representative Walden released a Digital Equity Framework that includes “Ensuring that students have access to broadband and necessary technologies to complete their homework remotely.” FCC Chairman Pai has also asked Congress for both the authority and the funding to address the need.
This momentum matters as we are also seeing a growing sense that some parents will not be comfortable sending their children back to school. An Echelon Insights/National Parents Union survey of parents found only 27% of parents were comfortable sending their child back to school in August or September.
Devices and connectivity alone will not solve the significant educational inequities we are working to reverse, but they are imperative given the obstacles to access and opportunity that students will face this coming school year.