Students would receive more opportunity to connect to the internet after school under proposed legislation

internet-billNew legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate would support innovative methods to give students access to the internet and digital tools outside of classrooms.

The Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015, introduced by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), would support pilot initiatives that increase student access to digital resources, increase student, parent, and educator engagement, and improve students’ chances to participate in new learning models.

It also provides for a national study of data related to the digital divide, including barriers to students’ home internet access, how educators confront that reality in their classrooms, and how no at-home internet access can impact student engagement.

Next page: More actions to expand out-of-school internet access

The bill would let states and districts pilot new programs that address the problem head-on. Districts or states might collaborate with libraries or other community partners to beef up internet access outside school for students. (The text of the proposed bill is available in full online).

Part of the legislation’s inspiration comes from a public library’s portable Wi-Fi initiative that lets students check out mobile Wi-Fi devices to access the internet outside of school.

“Students who do not have access to homework and resources from home are at a major learning disadvantage from those that do,” said Lan Neugent, interim executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association. “This legislation helps to level the playing field by prompting highly creative and innovative ways to provide home access to disadvantaged students. Rigorous evaluation will assure that the pilots become national models for solving this aspect of the digital divide.”

“Librarians know first-hand that access to broadband and the skills to put it to work are essential for educational opportunity and achievement today,” said American Library Association President Courtney Young. “The ‘Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015’ addresses these issues head on for everyone concerned with ensuring our young people have the necessary skills to go on to college and into the workforce. …The demonstration pilots authorized by the bill challenge educators in K-12 schools, in libraries, and those who work with youth in other settings to explore new ways to ensure learning does not stop when the school bell rings.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and made moves to increase access to broadband for low-income Americans by seeking comment on how to best update the federal Lifeline program, which was established in 1985 to help low-income citizens access affordable phone service.

The item adopted by the FCC on June 18 seeks comments on several proposals, including whether broadband should be a required offering of Lifeline providers.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) issued statements on both the digital learning legislation and the FCC’s

“We applaud Senators King and Capito for recognizing that student learning doesn’t begin and stop at school doors. Through digital resources and connectivity, it continues with students right to their homes and outside of school,” said CoSN CEO Keith Krueger.

“We cannot allow the homework gap to grow and further limit students from low-income families. We must provide opportunities and an investment that reduces digital inequities, supports student achievement at all times and better prepares them for college, career and life. “The Digital Learning Equity Act, by ensuring access to high-capacity broadband, is an important first step to making this happen.

“The growing use of digital tools and services is driving an incredible learning transformation in our schools. However, the lack of high-speed broadband access at home has inhibited many students from making the educational gains that come with 24/7 digital empowerment,” Krueger said in a second statement.

“As underscored in our support for the Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015, we need to invest in reducing digital inequities and supporting student achievement at all times. This takes bold, committed action, put on display today.

“The FCC, behind the leadership of Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, earns our praise for doing what’s right for America’s youth.”