WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015, major legislation that would support innovative ways to improve student access to the Internet and other digital learning resources outside of the classroom.

“In West Virginia, 56 percent of residents lack broadband services that meet the Federal Communications Commission’s standards. In rural areas of the state this number is even higher, hitting low-income households with school-age children the hardest. If we are going to equip our students with the tools necessary to learn, thrive and grow, we must ensure they have access to the Internet and digital learning tools outside of the classroom,” said Senator Capito. “I recently released my Capito Connect Plan for bringing affordable, high-speed internet access to every home, business and classroom in West Virginia. This bipartisan legislation will explore innovative ways to bring us closer to achieving that goal and giving all students a chance to excel.”

Whether completing a homework assignment, communicating with a teacher outside of the school day, or applying for college, twenty-four hour access to the Internet, as well as the countless digital learning tools that accompany it, has become a fundamental educational resource in today’s highly-connected world.

However, despite the serious need for out-of-school access to these tools, nearly one-third of low-income households with school-age children lack a high-speed Internet connection, which seriously limits access to educational opportunities and new learning tools essential for students to be successful. This divide, also referred to as the homework gap, disproportionately impacts minority students as well as those in rural states like Maine and West Virginia, where high-speed Internet connections are not always accessible or affordable.

The Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015 aims to narrow this growing divide by supporting innovative ways to ensure students stay connected and extend access to digital learning opportunities when they leave the classroom. This bill would support states and school districts in piloting creative methods to increase student access to digital learning resources outside of the school day with the goal of increasing student, parent, and educator engagement and improving the ability of students to participate in new learning models, apply for work opportunities, and fill out college applications and financial aid forms.

The legislation also directs the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to conduct a national study of the data associated with this growing digital divide, including information on the barriers to students having Internet access at home, how educators are adjusting classroom instruction to cope with this challenge, and how a lack of home Internet access impacts student participation and engagement.

The federal pilot program authorized under this legislation is inspired by a portable Wi-Fi initiative at the Cherryfield Public Library in Cherryfield, Maine. The “Check-out the Internet” initiative allows students to check-out a mobile Wi-Fi device to provide them with Internet access outside of school. The initiative is a public-private partnership with the New York Public Library, Maine State Library, U.S. Cellular, and Axiom Technologies with additional sites in rural Maine expected to be launched this summer. Participating students must lack Internet access at home and have a laptop or tablet issued by their school through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, a program that was spearheaded by then-Governor King to provide laptops to every seventh and eighth grade middle school student in the State of Maine.

The legislation has been endorsed by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Library Association, Common Sense Media, the Consortium for School Networking, the Competitive Carriers Association, Engine Advocacy, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, the National Education Association, the State Educational Technology Directors Association, and U.S. Cellular.

To see what others are saying about the bill, click HERE.

To read the text of the legislation, click HERE. For a one-page summary of the bill, click HERE.