The “homework gap” is a term FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel used to describe students’ difficulty getting online at home to complete school assignments. With 93% of students participating in some form of virtual education during the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue was thrust into mainstream conversation.
The homework gap stems from a lack of internet access and disproportionately impacts lower-income households and people of color. According to Pew Research Center, 25% of Black teens say they are not able to complete homework assignments because they lack a reliable internet connection or computer–compared to 13% of white teens and 17% of Hispanic teens. The income differential is staggering; 24% of students with a household income of $30,000 or less report issues with completing homework compared to 9% of students with incomes of $75,000 or more.
Nationally, 3.3% of children under 18 don’t have a computer at home, and 7.3% lack a broadband subscription. Georgia ranks 43rd in the country for the worst homework gap, with 9.6% of students lacking internet access or a computer at home, according to SatelliteInternet.com’s homework gap 2021 report. For comparison, the average homework gap in the United States is 7.3%.
Chromebook computers are the most affordable and functional solution to increasing connectivity for Georgia students. They are sturdy, lightweight, and work seamlessly with Google’s education software like G Suite for Education and Google Classroom. Chromebooks can also be embedded with Education broadband to allow students to access the internet at any time and anywhere. The most commonly used Chromebook in education is the Acer Chromebook 314, which costs between $159.99 to $269.99 (less than other devices like Macbooks and PCs) and is easily navigable for young students and parents alike.
Equity in education is critical for all Georgia students to excel, and the homework gap will continue to impact students unless the proper funding is allocated so public schools can provide adequate resources. Action has already been taken at the county level. The Oconee School Board agreed to spend $357,408 in federal pandemic relief funds to purchase 876 Chromebooks for future students back in October 2021. The Cobb County Public Library launched a Chromebook lending program that allows residents 17 and up to check a computer with built-in Wi-Fi service for up to three weeks at a time to meet their education, job search, workforce development and healthcare needs. On a national level, the Emergency Connectivity Fund, a $7.171 billion program funded as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, was created to help schools and libraries support remote learning by funding them for costs such as laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, and routers for students and teachers who lacked property connectivity during the pandemic.
While the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the necessity of technology to keep up with distance learning, technology has become a necessity in the classroom, even as most students have transitioned back to in-person learning. Therefore, it is critical that funding for Chromebooks remain a top priority for the Georgia legislature to ensure that its students receive the best education the state can provide. The Georgia General Assembly should allocate $45 million to the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) to cover the cost of roughly 154,000 Chromebooks for students that lack access to a home computer. This amount was calculated by taking 9.6% of the 1.6 million students (153,000 in total) educated in schools under the Georgia DOE that lack access to a computer or internet access at home and multiplying it by the cost of an Acer Chromebook 314 on the Acer website ($269.99). The resulting number of about $41.58 million was rounded up to $45 million to leave funding for additional computers as well as added costs overall.
With proper funding, the homework gap can be closed in Georgia so that students can achieve their highest potential in the classroom.