Our Politicians Must Take Action Now to Close the Digital Divide for Students
By Devin and Jason McCourty— New England Patriots and Players Coalition Members
Since March, the majority of America’s 56.4 million K-12 students have had to attend classes from home at some point due to COVID-19-caused school closures. Though some schools have re-opened, many more continue with full-time or part-time distance learning. For students without computers and wifi at home, participating in virtual classes and completing assignments is difficult in the best of cases, and sometimes completely impossible.
Congress’ $2 trillion CARES Act, passed back in March, added $13.2 billion in funding for K-12 schools. That was a start, but more funding is needed to support our education system in a variety of ways, including making sure all students have the resources needed to learn remotely. That is why it is so urgent for our politicians to come together to pass an additional stimulus package, which they unfortunately failed to do before Congress’ August recess. On October 1, the House passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but the bill is not supported by the White House nor Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and it is not anticipated to pass in the Republican-led Senate. Tragically, every day our politicians are unable to come to a common ground is another day students are left without much-needed resources.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 59 percent of parents in households with income of less than $37,500 said their children would probably face obstacles to learning because of a lack of digital resources. In a separate Pew Research report released in late April, 29 percent of parents with children learning from home said their students would most likely have to complete schoolwork on a cell phone. This lack of access to the internet and computers at home has resulted in the “homework gap,” and that gap must be closed.
Over the past several years, we have worked alongside Players Coalition Task Force members, including Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin, Kelvin Beachum, Demario Davis, Doug Baldwin, and a slew of active Players Coalition supporters consisting of current and former players and coaches across professional sports leagues. Championing education and economic advancement in low-income communities is a key pillar of our organization’s mission. We’ve had the opportunity to visit schools in underserved communities and to speak to school administrators. These are places full of bright and eager students, but we as the adults in our society are failing them by not ensuring they have the needed resources to keep up in school. This year, the situation for these students is more dire than ever.
Back in May, members of Players Coalition wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to lobby for the passage of the HEROES Act. We highlighted the impact the digital divide had on so many low-income students. We know that widespread vaccine availability is unlikely until at least 2021. Social distancing requirements and even potential future COVID resurgence will mean that remote learning, for at least some periods of time, will continue to be the reality for many students. Then in July, we wrote the Senate urging them to pass a package with crucial education funding and connectivity provisions. Unfortunately, Congress failed to come up with a resolution, in the process failing our nation’s children by not addressing education funding inadequacy and disparities, as well as the digital divide.
Though the HEROES Act was not enacted, Players Coalition Task Force members and our supporters want to make sure we continue to do our part to work towards closing the digital divide. This month, the organization is providing $350,000 in grants to 11 schools, districts and technology programs in cities throughout the country. These funds will primarily be used to purchase computers for students to use while learning from home (and eventually back at school) and to provide students with hotspots to ensure internet connectivity so they’re able to participate in classes and to complete assignments. We are proud of the work Players Coalition is doing, but we also understand this is a short-term fix for a limited number of students. Developing sustainable solutions to ensure technology access and internet connectivity is a much larger issue that is going to require a much more complex solution involving a variety of stakeholders and resources.
It is with this in mind that we implore our elected officials to put aside their differences to pass a stimulus package to help provide for the most vulnerable members of our society, our children, as we continue to face this pandemic as a nation. With each passing day, millions of students are falling further and further behind due to the digital divide. They deserve better and we know America and our politicians can do better.
Players Coalition is structured as an independent 501(c)(3) (charity) and 501(c)(4) (advocacy) organization, working with professional athletes, coaches and owners across leagues to improve social justice and racial equality in our country.