Miller, Roebuck introduce online learning equity bill for students in acute poverty

HARRISBURG, July 15 – COVID-19 resulted in the closing of schools statewide this past spring, a move that at the time had bipartisan support and echoed actions taken across our country, but it was one that also shined a bright line on the inequality embedded in many of our school districts across the state. This gross inequality allowed for more well-funded and financially supported districts to open online weeks if not almost two months ahead of neighboring districts that had less funding and less financial support.

State Reps. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, and Jim Roebuck, D-Phila., on Thursday introduced legislation (H.B. 2705) that would offer a path forward to make sure school districts in the future are not delayed in opening online due to uncertainty of access to technology, and that every child who is from a home living in acute poverty has the necessary technology provided to them to make them ready for online learning from day one.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented emergency that no district, state, or likely, nation was prepared to address,” Miller said. “However, we must learn from our experience this spring and we must make sure that no child or school district will be delayed from accessing or providing online education in the future due to financial hardship. It is unjust that our wealthier school districts can be up and running, while our more economically challenged school districts have to go door-to-door, hat-in-hand for donations to buy technology for kids. This legislation would provide a mechanism to help districts prioritize other needs by providing a state grant program for all kids in acute poverty with technology needs.”

“This legislation will address the inequities in online education that are part of the overall inequities in our public education system,” Roebuck said. “It is an important step in making sure all our children have an equal opportunity in receiving quality education. I commend Representative Miller for introducing this legislation and am proud to be working with him on this much needed initiative,” he said.

The Miller-Roebuck measure would:

  1. Create a grant program that hopefully would be funded with $100 million to make sure that students living in acute poverty can get a computer and access to the internet – if needed —every year.
  2. Require all school districts to design every lesson plan for possible online learning so that schools are ready to go with more flexibility.
  3. Develop an annual program that assesses every student’s online learning technology needs before a problem arises.
  4. Install training requirements for students, teachers and parents so that everyone knows how to use and learn through online schooling.
  5. Direct all school internet service providers to develop a program that provides students living in acute poverty access to the internet for schoolwork at no cost.

Miller said he hopes his legislation will be considered in September when House members return for fall session.

“The legislature has a constitutional duty to provide the support for a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education,’ and it is now more clear than ever before that here in Pennsylvania, no child is ready to learn and be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow without access to a computer and the internet at home.”