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Luján Introduces Legislation to Provide Internet Access on School Buses

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced legislation to provide wireless internet on school buses to help close the “homework gap.” Currently, millions of students need access to the internet to complete their school assignments but lack access at home. This gap especially impacts low-income, rural, and tribal students who must find other ways to get online to complete their homework. Luján’s legislation would allow the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program to reimburse schools that place wi-fi technology on school buses carrying students. The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and corresponding legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

“Technology is an integral part of students’ learning in the 21st century. Unfortunately, when they leave their classrooms, many students are at risk of falling behind simply because they can’t connect to the internet at home. In addition, I’ve spoken to students and teachers who talk about the barriers they face to success, and the lengths they go to every day to travel to and from school,” said Luján. “Turning students’ long commutes into time spent learning is a commonsense step toward ensuring that all students have the tools and skills they need to flourish.”

“Every New Mexico kid should have every opportunity to succeed – no matter where they live. But nearly one-third of kids in New Mexico are at risk of falling behind simply because they can’t get on the internet at home,” Udall said. “It’s time to end the homework gap. I’m proud to partner with Congressmen Luján and Welch on this legislation, which will help give all students the ability to get online to study and do homework assignments while they’re on the bus – a common sense, 21st century solution. By boosting federal investment in broadband and internet infrastructure, we’ll help close the digital divide that hurts too many rural New Mexico communities, Tribes, and low-income families.”

Last year, the Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning showed that 44 percent of principals say ensuring student access to technology outside of school is a major challenge today. In New Mexico, students living in rural, tribal, and low-income communities disproportionately face this issue and, as a result, are at a disadvantage in the classroom. New Mexican students living in these communities also often spend hours commuting to and from school on buses. Luján’s legislation would equip those school buses with internet access, providing students with additional time to complete homework.

“Mobile broadband can change lives for those in rural America, and connecting students on school buses turns ‘drive time’ into ‘learning time.’  Making these services eligible for E-rate support will undoubtedly enhance educational opportunities,” said Steven K. Berry, President and CEO of Competitive Carriers Association. “CCA thanks Congressman Luján for his leadership on this issue and strongly supports this legislation moving forward.”

Dr. Veronica C. Garcia, superintendent of schools for Santa Fe Public Schools, said, "We applaud Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Rep. Peter Welch for their efforts. This legislation will expand learning opportunities and access to technology for our children."

“Living and working on the Navajo nation, I know firsthand the challenges facing our educators and students due to lack of internet access.  I am pleased to support the expanded use of E-Rate funds to include wireless internet service on school buses as one solution to this problem in an effort to close the homework gap," said Clyde Casciato, NTUA Wireless General Manager.  "When internet access is not available at home or in local communities, it is nearly impossible for students to complete homework assignments and research projects. In the past year, NTUAW trials using this service on three different school bus routes have not only been successfully deployed, it have been used regularly by students to complete assignments.  With wireless internet access on school buses, students are able to take advantage of what would otherwise be lost hours on the school bus each day to continue their education.  Unfortunately, without E-Rate funds to support this initiative, it will never become a reality for most schools as they cannot afford to take on the expense of this additional service. Without a doubt, expanding E-Rate funds to include internet access on school buses will impact the quality of education received by so many students on the Navajo Nation. On behalf of NTUAW, I want to thank you for advocating to fund this service, and look forward to the opportunity to partner with schools to get it deployed on school buses throughout the Navajo Nation.”

“AASA was pleased to support the E-Rate modernization in 2014, providing critical program updates and funding to support more universal access to broadband to our nation’s schools and libraries, and the students they serve. Even with this expansion, though, the homework gap remains a very real obstacle, with millions of students lacking internet access to complete school assignments at home,” said AASA, The School Superintendents Association. “We support this legislation for recognizing the significant opportunity that school buses and long commutes offer for reducing the homework gap, and for its continued support for ensuring equitable access to high speed broadband for students, whether in school, at home, or on a school bus.”

Earlier this year, Luján introduced the Tribal Connect Act to promote broadband access in tribal communities. In November 2017, Luján introduced the Broadband Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (BFIA) to create new low-interest financing opportunities to incentivize broadband infrastructure build-out in New Mexico and other parts of the country. In addition, because federal lands, buildings, and assets can be used as conduits for broadband and other communication services, Luján championed a provision that is now law that requires the General Service Administration’s Federal Real Property Database to detail the ability of federal facilities to support a communications installation.

As part of his commitment to expanding broadband access to students and rural communities, on Friday, June 29, 2018, Luján will participate in a demonstration of Google’s wifi-enabled school buses. Called “Rolling Study Halls,” the program has equipped six school buses in the Santa Fe area with wi-fi to help students with long commutes access the internet. Following the demonstration, he will participate in a Digital Divide Discussion hosted by Santa Fe Public Schools.

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