State Leaders Advocate for Connectivity at School and at Home
April 14, 2016 by Tracy Weeks
During last week’s Washington Policy Summit, co-hosted by SETDA and CoSN, educators visited policymakers focused on advocating for equity in education as related to the digital divide. States and districts encouraged continued Congressional support of the FCC’s E-Rate and Lifeline initiatives so that students have seamless access to digital instructional materials both in and outside of school. Examples of how state leadership is critical to widespread quality broadband is documented in SETDA’s recent publication: State K-12 Broadband Leadership: Driving Connectivity and Access. The modernization of E-Rate makes it possible for schools to attain the quality broadband and Wi-Fi access needed for teachers to leverage Digital Tools to transform learning in the school building. If well implemented, educators will not have to make curricular decisions based on the available bandwidth.
For decades, educators, especially those in the educational technology space, have struggled with the digital divide. Initially the divide was determined by those students who had computers in their homes and those that did not. This launched years of refurbishing used, donate workstations to place in student homes. Increasingly, the divide has shifted from devices to connectivity. If teachers truly want to flip classrooms or extend and personalize learning through blended learning classrooms, students must have access to both devices and Internet access outside of school. States, districts, and schools are having thoughtful conversations about how to shift from print to digital content – but if students cannot access the content at home, the shift will leave them behind. This disparity in access is now being called the “Homework Gap.” This is where the update of Lifeline becomes critical.
Lifeline is a program that has been around for 30 years and was initially intended to make sure low income families were able to have a phone in their homes. With the update, these same families can now use Lifeline funds to have access to broadband. Having access to broadband means students can leverage digital tools in their homes and their parents have access to life and job information that increasingly only available online. States, districts, and schools need to communicate with families to make them aware of the availability of Lifeline funds. Additionally, Congress should use every tool at its disposal to connect the nation’s low-income families to the telecommunications services required to engage fully in their communities, with employers, and especially with the nation’s schools. This includes continued strong support for the E-rate, and now the Lifeline program, which will serve as a vital tool for helping low-income families acquire broadband.