Dems Push $4 Billion for Distance Learning

U.S. Capitol
(Image credit: Capitol)

Democratic Senators Ed Markey (Mass.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) are calling for $4 billion in funding in the next COVID-19 relief package for home ed tech.

They said the money should be used to insure that K-12 students have home internet connectivity and devices.

The FCC presides over an E-rate educational broadband subsidy fund for school and library connectivity, but FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said that must be used for connections in physical schools and libraries, per statue, and not for home access and devices for students having to get their schooling at home. Democrats argue that the FCC can and should extend the definition of school to remote learning.

Related: Educators Say Distance Learning Dollars, Equity, Are Keys to Reopening Schools

Sens. Markey and Van Hollen, joined by Senator Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), introduced a standalone bill to allocate that $4 billion, Emergency Educational Connections Act, back in May.

The senators scheduled a virtual hearing at about the same time House Democrats were pressing Pai over his reading of the statute to disallow that home broadband and device funding through E-rate.

Pai back in June pointed out that while the FCC's hands were tied when it comes to applying E-rate schools and libraries funding to remote learning during the pandemic, there are billions of dollars that could already be applied to that purpose that Congress has already allocated and the FCC is working on getting educators to spend on education tech.

He pointed out on a webinar that the CARES Act COVID-19 aid bill allocated $16 billion for schools and that the FCC was working with the Department of Education to let schools know that one of the things that money could be used for is educational tech. 

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.