Bipartisan lawmakers push for narrowing the 'homework gap'

Bipartisan lawmakers push for narrowing the 'homework gap'
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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling for steps to narrow the so-called homework gap as schools incorporate more technology into their classrooms.

The pandemic exposed the number of U.S. students who do not have access to high speed internet, and lawmakers say it’s an issue that isn’t likely to go away even after the pandemic subsides.

Speaking at The Hill’s “Future of Human Connectivity” event Wednesday, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said that while larger cities often have high quality broadband access, many smaller communities do not.

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“What good is a laptop to a student if they can’t connect and do their homework?” Latta asked.

A 2020 Pew Research survey found that 15 percent of U.S. households with school-age children do not have high speed internet access, a service that became essential for the many students completing assignments from home during the pandemic.

Latta, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications & Technology, noted that there is strong support for improving access to technology on both sides of the aisle.

“It’s something that affects everybody. It's something we can come together on,” he told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

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Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, said the pandemic made the homework gap even worse.

“We knew about it before COVID, but the entire world knows about it now because of COVID. Students that were dependent on an internet connection to do their homework couldn’t get into the classroom. I always remind folks: Whether students are in the classroom or not in the classroom, they still need access to the internet. Most of their homework is done this way now,” he said at Wednesday’s event sponsored by NCTA - The Internet & Television Association.

For households that do have broadband access, cost can oftentimes be a hurdle.

Geoffrey Starks, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, said during the event that families should not have to choose between internet connection and other essential utilities.

“Tens of millions of American households lack that home broadband connection simply because they can’t afford it. I’ve long said you shouldn’t have to choose between connectivity and keeping your lights on, but we know that millions of families do,” Starks said.