Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

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EDITORIAL:

Closing the homework gap is in the best interest of Nevada communities

In some respects, students in Las Vegas face a different set of challenges than their peers in Nevada’s rural schools.

But in one important area — their access to a computer and the internet at home — students from both environments are coping with adversity.

The exact numbers of Nevada students without access isn’t known. But if the state is in line with national statistics, the average is nearly 1 in 5.

Examining census data, the Associated Press issued a report recently saying that 3 million students don’t have a computer or an internet connection at home — 17% without a computer, and 18% without internet service.

The reasons can vary by area. Some rural communities have spotty service, if any, which isn’t a problem in the central Las Vegas Valley. But poverty is a big contributor in cities big and small, as many families’ limited resources leave them prioritizing food and utilities over computers and internet service.

Whatever the reason, the effect on students is significant in terms of their ability to do homework. They may be forced to wedge in study time at school facilities until buildings close, then go to libraries outfitted with public computers. Those who are fortunate enough to have a smartphone may do the best they can on the small screens of their devices.

But not having the right tools is a barrier. It’s no wonder that federal statistics show that students with a home computer and internet access consistently perform better in reading, math and science.

And as the AP notes, the lack of home internet access disproportionately affects students of color, those from low-income families and the children of parents with little or no postsecondary education.

The Clark County School District has taken various steps to address the issue, including working with Cox Communications to promote a special offer by the company to provide internet connections at a reduced rate of $9.95 per month to qualified families. CCSD also has partnered with the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, local libraries and valley businesses to provide an online directory of public locations that offer free W-Fi and allow students to hang out while doing their homework. (The list can be found at here.)

Nationwide, schools have addressed the issue by allowing students to access classroom computers early and after school, providing Wi-Fi on buses and extending Wi-Fi to school parking lots. Some offer programs through which low-income families can obtain free or reduced-price internet access.

Meanwhile, key Nevada leaders are backing efforts to expand rural access. Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen have both co-sponsored bills aimed at fostering additional development of the broadband system in Nevada’s remote areas.

But as the AP study showed, there’s a lot more work to be done.

Nevada made strides in public education this year when state Nevada lawmakers boosted funding to public schools during the 2019 session and overhauled the state’s archaic K-12 funding formula. But until the so-called “homework gap” is narrowed, some students will continue to be left behind for reasons they can’t control.