Boosting Broadband Adoption and Remote K–12 Education in Low-Income Households

May 1, 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the US in 2020, the model for K–12 schooling was upended. Educators had to scramble to teach remotely and to continue offering the essential services normally delivered in schools. Parents had to add educating their children to their list of responsibilities as they coped with the pandemic’s economic and emotional fallout. Students had to navigate online learning, many for the first time. However, for the roughly 15 million public-school students in the US who were without access to broadband internet and an e-learning device suitable for distance learning—about 30% of all K–12 students—the situation was more dire.1

The pandemic threw into sharp relief the educational and social inequities that characterize the digital divide—the gap between those with and without access at home to broadband internet or a digital device, such as a desktop computer or a laptop. The digital divide disproportionately impacts low-income households, as well as Black, Latinx, and Native American students and rural communities. Numerous studies show that being caught in the digital divide leads not only to lower academic performance but also to lifelong income losses, exacerbating systemic inequities. These consequences are only likely to increase over time as digital skills become foundational to both education and future employment.