To qualify for $7 billion in ‘homework gap’ funding, schools must filter students’ off-campus Internet access

The latest COVID relief aid approved by Congress in March includes more than $7 billion to help schools close the “homework gap” and ensure that students can access the Internet from home. But if schools take advantage of this funding, they’ll need an effective way to filter students’ web access from school-owned devices used off-campus.

According to E-rate consulting firm Funds For Learning (FFL), the “homework gap” (or the lack of high-speed Internet access in students’ homes) continues to be a pervasive issue, despite the best efforts of schools to help solve it. In the company’s latest survey of E-rate applicants, 90 percent of respondents said this digital divide is still a significant challenge in their communities—and the pandemic has cast a huge spotlight on this problem.

The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), created by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, aims to help. The program provides $7.191 billion in funding for mobile devices and off-campus Internet connections purchased by schools and public libraries to support remote learning. This one-time opportunity is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and administered through the E-rate program.

The ECF only supports educational activities taking place off-campus. It will reimburse schools up to $400 for one mobile learning device per student and for the cost of one broadband connection per remote learning location, such as a student’s home or a community center.

There will be a 45-day filing window to apply for ECF funding, and this filing window is expected to open by the end of June. The application process only covers new purchases made between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022.

Schools receiving ECF funding will be required to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in a similar way as E-rate recipients. According to FFL’s Frequently Asked Questions about the program: “The CIPA requirements will apply for the use of computers (laptops, tablets, etc.) that are owned by the applicant … if the applicant receives funding for Internet service through ECF or E-rate.”

CIPA certification for the ECF program will be included on the FCC Form 471 application that schools submit for ECF funding requests. Just as when they allow students to take school-owned devices home at night, applicants will need a way to monitor and filter students’ Internet access from home and other off-campus locations successfully.

ContentKeeper’s industry-leading school web filter works just as well when students are learning from home as it does while students are at school. Easy to set up and manage, and available as either a cloud-based or on-premises solution, ContentKeeper functions equally well with all device types and web browsers, not just Chromebooks—and it allows for full visibility and reporting of students’ online activity, regardless of where they’re logging on from. 

School systems such as Canyons School District in Utah and Forest Hills Public Schools in Michigan have discovered that ContentKeeper is an ideal solution for keeping students safe and understanding their online activity both on and off-campus. Learn more here.


About the Author: The former editor of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce has more than 20 years of experience writing about education and technology.