The U.S. needs billions to close the digital divide

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As Americans close out one year of pandemic-related school disruption and head into a second, the digital divide remains a daunting challenge for K-12 public school systems in most states.

Although progress to bridge the divide has been significant, as many as 12 million K-12 students remained digitally underserved just before 2021, according to a report by Common Sense, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and the Southern Education Foundation.

The report, titled Looking Back, Looking Forward: What It Will Take to Permanently Close the K-12 Digital Divide, provides a granular understanding of the digital divide’s impact on students, and offers a set of recommendations at the federal, state, and local levels to permanently close the digital divide.

The report finds that since March 2020, programs to enable distance learning during the pandemic reduced the number of students without access to broadband service by 20 to 40 percent and reduced the number of students without access to an e-learning device by 40 to 60 percent. The analysis also finds that more than 75 percent of these efforts will expire in the next one to three years, leaving temporarily connected students once again digitally underserved.

Leadership required to permanently close the gap

“States and school districts have stepped up to tackle the homework gap during the pandemic. And while some support has flowed to these efforts from the Federal Government, it has been inconsistent and remains insufficient,” says James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. “There remains a significant need to support states and schools that have stood up programs to close the homework gap during the pandemic, and to help them close the divide for good. It is incumbent on the Federal Government and state governments to not only prevent these efforts from stalling, but enhance them, ensuring access to broadband service and devices, and to deploy future-proof broadband infrastructure that can meet the needs of students right now, and going forward.”

Laura Ascione
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