Capito, King Push to Bolster Digital Learning Gains Momentum

New Education Department report result of education reform bill language senators secured to help close the homework gap

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine) today welcomed the release of a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, an entity within the U.S. Department of Education, that addresses the importance of digital learning for students in the 21st century and includes a review of strategies to help close the homework gap for school-age children lacking broadband access outside of the classroom. Key findings in the report highlight the pervasive use of computers as a learning tool for schoolwork and the disadvantage this can pose for students from rural or low-income parts of the country if they lack necessary broadband access.

Senators Capito and King pushed for the report to be required in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a major bipartisan education reform bill passed in 2015 that curtailed the burdensome requirements of No Child Left Behind. The report also builds on the Digital Learning Equity Act, bipartisan legislation the senators introduced to improve student access to the internet and close the digital divide.

“As the FCC has reported, West Virginia is nearly in last place when it comes to broadband access. So when seven out of ten teachers are assigning homework that requires the internet, our students are being left behind,” Senator Capito said. “This report gives us more accurate information on how the homework gap is affecting students across the country, and it reemphasizes the need to increase access to rural broadband. We have to close the digital divide so our students, small businesses, and others can succeed.”

“This report underscores the issues facing students in communities across Maine,” Senator King said. “The homework gap remains a barrier to learning and equal opportunities for students living in rural and low-income households. Fortunately, creative uses of technology, like the mobile hotspots and public-private partnerships we’ve seen in Washington County, hold promise in addressing it. Every school-age child deserves a fair shot to learn, grow, and succeed, and I hope the Department of Education will conduct further research to fully inform the best approaches so we can level the education playing field and close the digital divide.”

Specifically, the report finds that in 2015, 80 percent of 8th graders across the country reported using a computer for schoolwork on a weekday. Further data in the report shows that students 5 to 17 years old were most likely to live in households that subscribe to fixed broadband if they live in suburbs and least likely if they live in rural areas. Additionally, students 5 to 17 years old were least likely to live in households that subscribe to fixed broadband if they lived in lower-income households and most likely if they lived in upper-income households. The cost of broadband was tied for the top reason that households cited for not having an internet subscription.

Section 9210 of ESSA, which was enacted in 2015 to reauthorize the federal law governing K-12 education, requires the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to publish a study on the education impact of access to digital learning resources—such as computers and broadband internet—outside of the classroom. Senators Capito and King, along with U.S. Representatives Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.), advocated for the inclusion of this section in ESSA, which was based in part on Section 3 of the Digital Learning Equity Act. The senators and representatives have continued to support improvements to broadband and digital learning access through their leadership of the Senate Broadband Caucus and House Rural Broadband Caucus and by advocating for improvements to related programs at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Education.

As co-chairs of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Senators Capito and King have been strong proponents of broadband infrastructure initiatives. Through the caucus and her Capito Connect plan, Senator Capito has long made improving access to rural broadband in West Virginia and across the country a priority. As chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the FCC and a member of the Commerce Committee, Senator Capito has also worked closely with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to help close the digital divide. Senators Capito and King also successfully advanced bipartisan federal legislation in 2015 to support innovative strategies to connect rural students to the internet outside of the classroom, and wrote a letter to then-Education Secretary John King in April 2016 urging that he implement the changes.

The full report is available here

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