ALA urges passage of Digital Learning Equity Act

Digital section of MLK Library in Washington, D.C.

Digital section of the Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Memorial Library, Washington, D.C.

ALA is urging passage of The Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015, H.R. 3582, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week by Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) and co-sponsored by David McKinley (R-WV) with the support of ALA and the education community.

ALA President Sari Feldman issued a statement applauding Reps. Welch and McKinley for co-sponsoring H.R. 3582 and warning that: “Students in every classroom and every corner of the nation need Congress to close the homework gap. ALA urges Congress to quickly pass and send the Digital Learning Equity Act to the President.”

The legislation addresses the growing digital divide and learning gaps between students with and without access to the Internet at home. Increasingly, students find it necessary to complete homework utilizing the Internet. Many students gather at public libraries after school, gain access before school or at lunch, or simply go without access often resulting in these students falling behind. Allowing students access to laptops only addresses part of the digital divide—if the student cannot access the Internet, they cannot do their homework research.

H.R. 3582 recognizes that at-home access is critical to homework completion, authorizes an innovative grant program for schools to promote for student access, prioritizes rural and high-density, low-income schools, and requires the FCC to study the growing homework gap. ALA signed a joint letter with several education representatives to support H.R. 3582 and urge its quick passage.

The legislation recognizes that libraries can provide access tools, on-line tools, as well as provide research and guidance for students complementing the work of teachers and school librarians. As noted in the September/October issue of American Libraries, libraries are quickly moving to provide tools for greater Internet access. Libraries across the country, including New York, Kansas City, San Mateo County (CA), Chicago and Washington County, Maine, are already allowing patrons to check-out mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

Additional benefits of increased access include providing parents opportunities to complete their education, obtain certifications, and apply for jobs.

The Senate companion, S. 1606, was introduced in the Senate this past June by Senator Angus King (I-ME) and is being considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. H.R. 3582 was referred to the House Education and Workforce Committee.

ALA will continue to support efforts to broaden access to the Internet and calls on Congress to quickly pass the Digital Learning Equity Act.

About Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the assistant director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations.

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