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Home Internet Access for Poor, Rural Students Aim of New Federal Bill

coachella-wifi-schoolbus-500px.jpgHoping to close the "homework gap" for students living in poverty and in rural areas, two federal lawmakers introduced Thursday a new bill that would authorize a federal grant program aimed at promoting fresh approaches to providing children with outside-of-school Internet access.

The "Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015" is sponsored by Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). 

"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," Capito said in a statement"This bipartisan legislation will explore innovative ways to bring us closer to that goal."

Nearly one-third of low-income households with school-aged children lack a high-speed Internet connection, according to the release. That's a growing problem, especially with the growing use of digital devices and content in schools and increases in the amount of Internet-based homework assigned by teachers.

The new legislation, if approved, would authorize the U.S. Department of Education to provide competitive grants to states and school districts to "develop, implement, and evaluate innovative strategies to increase out-of-school Internet access for eligible students," according to the bill. The strategies could be tested out over periods of not more than two years.  The bill would also authorize the Institute of Education Sciences, the education department's research wing, to "complete a national study on the educational trends and behaviors associated with access to digital learning resources outside of the classroom." 

Education, technology, and library groups applauded the bill.

"Librarians know first-hand that access to broadband and the skills to put it to work are essential for educational opportunity and achievement today," wrote the Washington-based American Library Association in a statement.  "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."

According to a press release issued by Sen. King, the pilot program that would be authorized by the bill is inspired by a "check-out the Internet" initiative at the Cherryfield Public Library in Cherryfield, Maine. Under that program, students are allowed to check out mobile Wi-Fi devices from the library.

Recent coverage in Education Week has focused on some schools' efforts to extend Wi-Fi to students in public housing and on their school buses. 

Photo: Two buses in the Coachella Valley Unified School District have Wi-Fi technology. --Nichole Dobo, The Hechinger Report


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