San Francisco, CA (December 15, 2020) -- The following statement was released today by James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense, in response to high-level talks today regarding a COVID emergency relief package. Earlier this week, a bi-partisan group of Senators and Members of Congress released their own plan that, among other items, included $3 billion to help close the digital divide for students and teachers during the pandemic, a top priority for Common Sense:
"Common Sense once again urges Congress to pass an emergency COVID relief bill this month and to include in it funding to help close the digital divide for millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers affected by the pandemic. We were pleased to see bi-partisan support earlier this week for providing $3 billion to begin to close the student and teacher Homework Gap, a major step forward even though more than that is needed to get the job done.
"We understand there are many issues that remain to be resolved and we encourage congressional leaders to find a path forward to help the economy and Americans suffering from the pandemic, including helping to ensure that all kids and their teachers are adequately connected to the internet during this period of distance learning. This is a matter of fundamental equity and we strongly encourage action on this issue before Congress adjourns."
In June, Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group released a groundbreaking report showing that an estimated 16 million students (and 400,000 teachers) are caught in the digital divide, and our analysis found that it will cost up to $11 billion dollars to close the divide for students (plus $1 billion for teachers) in the first year. Our report recommended that Congress use the long-standing E-Rate program to close the digital divide for students at home as an emergency measure during the pandemic.
The bi-partisan Senate agreement includes $3 billion dedicated specifically to closing the Homework Gap using a one-time waiver to the highly regarded E-Rate Program that has done so much to connect our schools and libraries for more than 25 years. Prioritizing Homework Gap funding through the E-rate program allows this emergency federal funding to quickly flow to the schools working to close connect their students and teachers at home and reduce learning loss during the pandemic.
COVID exposed long-standing inequalities, none more so than in educational opportunity. The huge gap between kids living in homes that lack adequate internet and computer devices to conduct distance learning has been one of our central challenges for years but especially so during the pandemic with so many schools closed and the reality of learning loss setting in.
In October, we released a second report that details the robust work of states and school districts to build systems to deliver support for distance learning. However, only partial progress has been made and without adequate funding directly committed to keeping kids out of the digital divide these efforts are at risk of stalling or reversing.
About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.