Prepared by John Cradler, CUE Legislation and Policy Consultant

Current Legislation Priority: As reported in the last update, legislation related to educational technology addresses closing the digital divide and related homework gap by increasing home access to broadband internet–especially in underserved and rural homes. This major surge in interest is because of school closures related to Coronavirus as well as the already well-established need for students to have home access to broadband to address the “homework gap”.

Proposed Federal Stimulus Legislation Includes Broadband Provisions:  Senators Edward Markey, D-Mass., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, joined 31 colleagues in a letter to House and Senate leadership requesting funding for all K-12 students to have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The senators expressed their disappointment with the lack of such funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that recently passed Congress, despite their repeated call for resources dedicated to distance learning. The lawmakers urged leadership in both chambers of Congress to support $2 billion in E-Rate funding in the next coronavirus relief package for students to learn at home.

Support for E-Rate off-campus Internet Connections: The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Funds For Learning, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) issued the following statement supporting Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-MA) companion bill to Rep. Grace Meng’s (D-NY) Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020, which would provide $4 billion in E-Rate funding for off-campus internet connections:

“CoSN, Funds For Learning, SHLB and SETDA applaud Sen. Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Meng (D-NY) for taking the lead on connecting the 7.15 million U.S. families without internet access at home.

Funds For Learning estimates that $5.25 billion in additional federal funding is necessary to meet the needs of learners, teachers and library patrons nationwide. Schools and libraries should be authorized to use the most cost-effective technologies to solve this problem.

If you would like to send a letter to your Congressional Representative(s), to help advocate for E-rate funding to homes, go to the CoSN site for details providing: names of your Congressional Representatives based on your zip code, a pre-written letter, and an automated process for you to send your support to your representative. Click on this url to contribute your support:  http://action.cosn.org/ctas/all-students-displaced-by-pandemic-need-access-to

Proposed Federal Legislation: Congress is now actively addressing the digital divide with recently proposed Senate and House bills.

  • E-Rate for Home Access: S.3690, Senator Markey (Mass) and H.R. 6563, Representative Meng (NY): Proposed funding $5.25 Billion. Provides E-Rate support for Wi-Fi hotspots, connected devices and advanced services during COVID-19 and E-Rate support for broadband services to the home and devices.
  • Broadband infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.: S.2344, Senator Peters (Mich), H.R. 4127: Representative Lujan, (NM): To establish broadband infrastructure finance and innovation program.
  • Internet Exchange Act of 2019: H.R. 3869, Representative Long, (Mo): Grants to establish or expand internet exchange facilities in unserved and underserved areas.
  • Emergency Broadband Connection Act: H.R. 6881, Representative Veasey (Texas): Provides $50/month subsidy for low-income households for broadband connections. Funding $9 billion.
  • Digital Equity Act: S 1167, Senator Murry (Wash) and H.R.4486 Representative McNerney (CA): Establishes aa digital equity grant program. Funding: $1.2 billion. (details in the CUE April Update)
  • National Broadband Plan for the Future Act: Senator Markey (Mass), Updates the National Broadband Plan.
  • Keeping Critical Connections Act: S. 3569: Senator Klobuchar (Minn), H.R. 6304, Representative Welch (Vt), Help small ISPs keep customers connected during VOCID-19.

National Educational Technology Survey: The Consortium on School Networking CoSN recently released a new report, combining the results of the organization’s long-standing IT Leadership and Infrastructure surveys, to give school districts and policymakers a holistic understanding of the K-12 IT landscape. The report, The State of Ed Tech Leadership in 2020, stems from a national survey of over 500 rural, suburban and urban school systems. According to the results, cybersecurity remains the top priority for school district IT leaders, however, they continue to face severe budget challenges, a lack of adequate staffing, professional development, and outdated infrastructure. Diversity and digital equity are among other key concerns. The results of this survey provide useful data to back educational technology advocacy for bills and policies at the local, state, and national levels.

California Legislation and Initiatives:

Because of the limited education budget it has not been possible to initiate any new legislation that would fund new support services for educational technology. Now with the Coronavirus, the already limited State Budget must face significant cuts. The Education Coalition is opposing the Governor’s May revision of the proposed State Budget for Education. The final budget must be passed by Friday, June 15th.

California Education Budget: The following press release was issued on May 28 by the Education Coalition:  Educators, Classified Personnel, Parents & Administrators Call for June Solution to the Budget Shortfall to Ensure Schools Safely Open This Fall.

The Education Coalition, comprised of the nine statewide K-12 education associations that work closely to advocate for the six million students in California’s public schools and colleges, urged California’s lawmakers to adopt a funding solution to the COVID-19-related budget crisis in the June budget. The group said that without adequate funding, schools cannot open on time safely. Under the Governor’s proposed budget, a 10% cut ($6.5 billion) to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) equates to:

  • Cutting $1,230 per student, or
  • Cutting $21,667 per classroom, or
  • Increasing class sizes by 19%, or
  • Laying off more than 57,600 teachers, or
  • Laying off more than 125,000 education support professionals.

Under the Governor’s proposed budget, a 10% cut ($6.5 billion) to the LCFF equates to: “Deep budget cuts to public education will stand in the way of preparing our schools for the safe return of students and educators and further prolong the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said E. Toby Boyd, President of California Teachers Association (CTA).

“County Superintendents of Schools annually review and approve the budget of every school district in the state, so we know that school districts are under enormous financial stress right now,” said Peter Birdsall, Executive Director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA). “County Superintendents are working with school districts to ensure that when schools reopen, students and staff can return to a safe environment.  With the need for blended learning, social distancing and enhanced cleaning, fewer resources will create a tremendous challenge to effectively meeting this goal.”

“The May Revision budget proposal will prevent many schools from opening safely as expenses for COVID-19 response have exacerbated the already precarious financial situation of public schools,” said Vernon Billy, CEO of California Schools Boards Association (CSBA). “The Governor’s May Revise is simply not realistic. In February – before the pandemic – we conducted a survey of school districts’ financial conditions which found that 77 percent of school districts were already deficit spending and more than a third were contemplating layoffs. We are asking the Legislature and Governor for a realistic budget that funds our schools appropriately and allows us to provide students with an education in a safe and supportive environment during this pandemic.”

The Coalition is calling on the administration and the legislature to identify and agree on alternate revenue sources, in addition to supporting the suspension of tax credits, to ensure K-12 schools can provide quality and safe educational environments for California’s six million students. To view a recording of the Coalition press conference on the proposed budget, click here and use the password 7l=.p4Uf 

California Broadband and Infrastructure and Distance Learning Bond Act of 2020: Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, is now putting forward the California Broadband Infrastructure and Distance Learning Bond Act of 2020 in response to those ongoing challenges. The proposal came following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May revision of the state budget proposal, which included a 10% cut — about $6.5 billion — to the LCFF, which comprises about 80% of state funding for K-12 schools.

The bond could be in the range of $3 billion to $4 billion. In addition to building fiber cables and other necessary infrastructure in the most remote parts of the state, the funding would help purchase computers and pay for the professional training for teachers on how to effectively use technology for instruction.

In 2017, California passed the Internet for All Act, a law that authorized the California Advanced Services Fund to collect $66 million per year through 2022 via surcharges and taxes on telecommunications services. California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), Director Sunne McPeak and others are now proposing that the Legislature extend collection through 2028 and increase the funding amount from $66 million to $100 million per year to keep up with increasing internet needs and grant applications from service providers. CETF is supporting the bond proposal along with the California School Boards Association, which sent a letter to Newsom on April 29 that included a call for a $2 billion broadband infrastructure bond on the November ballot.

• California Advanced Services Fund: AB 1130, Senator Lena Gonzalez. Bill Summary: This bill would make various changes to the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), including modifying the definition of an “unserved” area eligible for CASF broadband infrastructure funding. Cost is unknown due to an expansion of the number of unserved households/areas that would be eligible for funding from the CASF program. This bill is under consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

• Distance Learning Cost Study: AB 2626, Assembly Members Bauer-Kahan, and Burke: This bill would require the California Research Bureau (CRB) to conduct research on ways to close the digital divide through policies that reduce the upfront costs of devices and communications technology purchased by local educational agencies to provide students with equitable access to distance learning.

CUE Advocacy Strategy: As opportunities arise, CUE continues to be proactive in the development, co-development, sponsorship, and support of state and Federal legislation and resolutions which are consistent with the CUE Legislative Advocacy Platform. The CUE Legislative Advocacy Committee (LAC) meets as needed to discuss relevant bills, resolutions, policies, and other related actions suggested by the CUE Legislative Consultant, Board Members, staff, and Committee members. For earlier Legislative Updates, go to: http://blog.cue.org/tag/advocacy/ or additional information related to this report contact cradler@earthlink.net. Let us know about any legislation, policy, and/or funding issues the LAC should consider or investigage.

Mercedes Maskalik

About Mercedes Maskalik