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Extend the Emergency Connectivity Fund

New research from the Common Sense Census reveals the homework gap is still disproportionately a problem for Black and Hispanic/Latino kids.

At Common Sense, we've spent the last year and a half working to understand the scale and scope of the digital divide, and new data from the Common Sense Census shines an even brighter light on the racial and economic inequality related to the homework gap. Although the American Rescue Plan and its Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) are alleviating some distance learning pressures, Black and Hispanic/Latino students and those from lower-income households are still underserved, and work to close the digital divide must continue. Here's what we learned in The Common Sense Census Presents: Remote Learning and Digital Equity During the Pandemic.

  • A significant number of families across the country -- especially lower-income families and families of color -- are still under-connected.

    According to our research, about one in four kids from lower-income households still do not have a computer at home, and nearly four in ten (39%) still don't have residential broadband. Further, access to these devices -- and the quality of their connection -- varies substantially not just by income, but also by race or ethnicity. For example, 88% of White households have some form of broadband, compared to 68% of Hispanic households.
  • Lack of connection is a factor that keeps students from fully engaging in remote school.

    Three out of four students going to school remotely during the pandemic experienced some kind of technical issues or a lack of digital access that made it hard for them to attend class or do their schoolwork. Plus, young people without home broadband experienced more frequent disruptions in their schooling than those with broadband. And just as before, Hispanic/Latino students and those from lower-income families were more likely to experience technical issues or a lack of access: For example, 55% of Hispanic/Latino students said they experienced such challenges "often" or "sometimes," compared with 38% of White students. Similarly, 55% of students from lower-income households experienced these disruptions, compared to 37% of students from higher-income households.
  • Remote learning was a reality for kids across the country, but more so for kids of color and lower-income families. While 32% of all 8- to 18-year-olds in the U.S. say they have attended school fully online during the pandemic, Black and Hispanic/Latino kids were twice as likely as kids from White families to say they had been in remote school all the time last year (48% of Hispanic/Latino and 39% of Black youth, compared to 20% of White youth.)

As the pandemic wears on, this data is more fuel for the push to close the digital divide in this country. It's clear that kids from families and communities of color, as well as lower-income families, bear the brunt of the burden, and not without consequences. The ECF has been a lifeline for many vulnerable students, and it is well positioned to continue to connect students across the country with devices and reliable broadband for a future that will include digital curriculum in some shape or form. But its funds are set to run out in mid-October.

Right now is a good time to reach out to your Congress members and senators to remind them to keep up the momentum to eliminate digital inequity. In order to equip teachers and caregivers to keep everyone learning during these unsettling times (and beyond), Congress must extend the ECF in the Build Back Better Act, also referred to as the budget reconciliation package, to keep kids learning, support equitable access to education, and ensure communities are resilient in the face of crisis.

Methodology: Data in this blog is from a nationally representative, probability-based survey of 1,318 children age 8 to 18 years old and their caregivers, conducted in English and Spanish from May 7 to June 3, 2021, by Ipsos Public Affairs for Common Sense Media.

Amina Fazlullah

Amina Fazlullah is the Senior Director Equity Policy at Common Sense. Her work focuses on expanding access to technology and digital well-being advocacy. Prior to joining Common Sense, Amina was a Tech Policy Fellow at Mozilla, where she worked to promote broadband connectivity in underserved communities around the world. Amina has also worked with the Benton Foundation, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, for the Honorable Chief Judge James M. Rosenbaum of the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, and at the FCC.