There’s no school this fall without the internet, but as remote learning gets underway in districts across Massachusetts and kicks off in Boston on Monday, not every student has access to a network.
“Right now we’re trying to connect students with 60- or 90-day free trials with Wi-Fi access. But what happens after those free trials end?” Boston Teachers Union president Jessica Tang said on Friday.
Even among students who do have access to the internet, some have such poor connections that they’re “dropping in and out,” she added. “Obviously that’s a major disruption to remote learning.”
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey is calling for $4 billion in the next round of coronavirus relief funding to change that.
“The internet is like oxygen for young people and their education,” Markey said Friday, appearing with Tang outside the Boston Teachers Union Pilot School in Jamaica Plain. “If the internet is not made available to them, if they don’t have the devices, then they’re going to be left behind.”
Markey has been pushing for federal funding to ensure all students in kindergarten through grade 12 have access to the internet at home as the coronavirus pandemic keeps learning largely online.
Beyond the $4 billion he says would be funded through general appropriations — on taxpayers’ dime — Markey also wants to tap into $1.6 billion in Federal Communications Commission E-Rate funding to help supply students with Wi-Fi hotspots and other internet-access devices.
“Children should not have to scramble to find Wi-Fi, to find devices in order for them to learn,” Markey said, blaming President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for stonewalling the funding.
Some 16 million children nationwide lack internet at home, predominantly poorer students, immigrants and people of color, Markey said.
More federal funding for internet access could benefit potentially thousands of Boston students who don’t have hotspots, lack laptops or whose computers are broken and need to be replaced, Tang said.
Boston Public Schools has distributed roughly 35,000 Chromebooks. But a spokesman said Friday the district was still waiting on a shipment of another 20,000 laptops as schools across the country face shortages and delays in securing the coveted devices.
“On Monday, we already know we’re going to have some students who don’t have those laptops,” Tang said. “We need the actual legislation and solutions that Sen. Markey and others are advocating for to actually be successful this year.”