Rosenworcel Homework Gap Maternity

Jessica Rosenworcel spoke Thursday about the roles of the FCC, private companies and communities in closing the homework gap.

Jessica Rosenworcel is a commissioner at the FCC. (Flickr)

While delivering her first public policy remarks since returning to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in August, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on Thursday emphasized the "magnitude of the problem" she calls the "homework gap" and suggested several solutions for closing it.

In her address to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Rosenworcel, a Democrat, applauded the school broadband connections that have been established through the FCC's E-rate program, but noted that student learning is suffering outside the classroom.

She described a growing connectivity disparity for students at school versus at home. As many as 7 in 10 teachers today assign homework online, she said, but the FCC estimates 1 in 3 households do not subscribe to broadband service — thus, the homework gap.

“There is evidence all around us that the homework gap is real,” Rosenworcel said, adding that the Senate Joint Economic Committee estimates 12 million children in the United States live in homes without a broadband connection.

Rosenworcel recalled students in Alabama “hunkering down” in fast food restaurants and students in Michigan sitting in parking lots trying to connect to a free network so they could complete their homework.

“These students are inspiring. They’ve got grit in spades,” she said. “They are cobbling together whatever connectivity they can find to simply get their homework done. But, it shouldn’t be this hard.”

There are plenty of ways the FCC and local organizations — including schools, private companies and entire communities — can pitch in to support students in need of connectivity, Rosenworcel said.

For starters, the FCC must study its current practices and create spaces where students can complete schoolwork, she said. The FCC should also take steps to provide wireless routers for school buses and equip libraries with hotspots.

But, given the scope of the problem, Rosenworcel pressed the need for assistance from the private sector as well, suggesting that companies consider offering discounted computers for homes with school-aged children.

Local organizations could also contribute to this effort by creating “safe spaces” for homework, said Rosenworcel. She cited communities — including Athens, Georgia, and Topeka, Kansas — that flash colorful decals on buildings where safe spaces are located and have developed directories and maps that identify these spaces for students.

“Now imagine those decals multiplying around a town, and imagine the statement that makes to students. Every one of those decals says your schoolwork matters and your community supports you,” Rosenworcel said to the audience. “I hope you will consider the role you can play bridging the homework gap, because I think it is the cruelest part of our new digital divide. But I think it is also within our power to fix it — and make a real difference.”

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Education IT News, Digital Equity, K-12, Policy, homework gap, Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC, Federal Communications Commission, Broadband access, E-Rate

Federal health reform has decreased the number of uninsured Americans and charity cases at hospitals, it has also led to an increase in the number of high deductibles they can't collect, a particular problem in rural areas where hospitals are already struggling financially, John Lauerman reports for Bloomberg Business.

The nation's uninsured rate has dropped from 15.7 percent in 2009 to 9.1 percent today. That would be good news if a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey hadn't revealed "that in the first nine months of 2015, about 36 percent of the U.S. insured were covered by high-deductible or consumer-directed health plans that can require considerable out-of-pocket payments, compared with about 25 percent in 2010," Lauerman writes. As a result, companies like Community Health Systems Inc., which "operates 195 hospitals in 29 states and is the U.S.’s second-biggest for-profit U.S. hospital chain." earlier this month "revised its fourth-quarter 2015 provision for bad debt up by $169 million—and said that 40 percent, or about $68 million of that amount, was from patients being unable to pay deductibles and co-payments."

"Patients are unlikely to pay medical bills that are greater than 5 percent of household income, according to the Advisory Board, a consulting firm to hospitals," Lauerman writes. "Median household income in the U.S. is at about $53,000, suggesting that when out-of-pocket charges exceed $2,600 hospitals can forget about collecting," said Washington-based analyst Spencer Perlman.

"Rural hospitals have been hit particularly hard," he writes. "Minnesota has long had high rates of care coverage, and many employers have switched to high deductible offerings, according to Joe Schindler, vice president of finance for the Minnesota Hospital Association. Last year, bad debt rose by 20 percent to $425 million at the association’s 140 member hospitals." Schindler told Lauerman, “We have 39 hospitals that have negative margins and the majority of them are rural. They have less of a financial cushion to absorb the losses of bad debt.” (Read more)

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