Advancing Digital Equity by Getting Families Connected

New federal initiatives identify ways for schools to help tackle the digital divide—a growing equity issue that disproportionately affects low-income families and communities of color.

During continued recovery from the pandemic, schools are serving as unwavering pillars of hope and strength for our communities across the country. The pandemic transformed many aspects of our everyday life, including education. Building on lessons from the recent period of emergency remote learning, students and educators are engaging in teaching and learning empowered by technology at an accelerated pace. Models like online academic success coaching and mentorship are expanding, while learners of all ages are participating in digital opportunities to creatively explore their individual interests, identities, and potentials.

But because these opportunities are only available to some, we need a collective commitment to advancing digital equity. We know communities of color, as well as students from low-income backgrounds, are disproportionately impacted by the digital divide. Therefore, we want to share a few ways to ensure all members of our communities are empowered to participate in teaching and learning experiences enabled through the effective use of technology.

About the Affordable Connectivity Program

The Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) allows qualifying households to reduce their internet costs by up to $30 a month ($75 a month on Tribal lands). Families can visit to learn how to sign up for the ACP and find participating providers in their area.

With the Biden administration’s encouragement, several companies additionally committed to offer ACP-eligible families at least one high-speed plan for $30 a month or less, with no additional fees and no data caps. This mean if households apply their ACP benefit to one of these plans, they will have no out-of-pocket cost for internet.

Who’s Eligible for the ACP?

To assist families with ACP sign-ups, the U.S. Department of Education collaborated with federal partners to develop FAQs and resources to facilitate communication about ACP eligibility. It features these strategies schools can use when working with families who might benefit from the ACP. They include:

  • Using the outreach toolkit to inform eligible families about the ACP;
  • Creating an outreach team or partner with a trusted community-based organization;
  • Helping families identify participating providers;
  • Organizing a provider fair; and
  • Sending letters verifying free or reduced-price school meals, which meets ACP eligibility criteria.

Eliminating Barriers to Broadband

The National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s Internet for All initiative shares programs from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law aimed at connecting all Americans to high-speed internet. Under this initiative, state leaders will soon develop plans to implement the federal broadband funds. Schools and communities can collaborate with their state’s broadband and digital equity leaders to ensure investments will equitably address challenges you have experienced at the local level.

To help, the U.S. Department of Education recently convened education stakeholders to identify key barriers to broadband adoption faced by students and promising strategies for navigating those barriers. The new guidance resource resulting from this initiative provide good starting points for dialogue that bridges the gap between the education and broadband sectors.

David Griffith is associate executive director of Policy and Advocacy at NAESP.