The House Energy & Commerce Committee has voted 31 to 24 to approve a massive COVID-19 relief/budget reconciliation package that includes billions for remote learning broadband service and devices.
The broadband portion of the bill allocates $7.6 billion "to help bridge the digital divide for students and teachers who do not have access to the internet at home," as E&C Chairman Frank Pallone put it Friday evening following a marathon, two-day, markup.
A Republican amendment was defeated 30 to 24 that would not have allowed that broadband money to be spent at schools that were not completely re-opened, saying the remote learning subisidies would be rewarding schools for not opening back up.
They said that rather than pushing that new broadband funding, they should be figuring out how to use the money already allocated for education to open up schools safely.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said he wanted the schools to open as soon as possible as well, but that if a school system has decided it is not safe to return to in-person learning, the remote learning broadband subsidies are needed. He said that even when they re-open, they could use a hybrid in-person/remote model to help limit class size and the potential for transmission. "Even for open schools there is also a distance learning component," he said.
Pallone said he thought the amendment was a huge mistake.
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