Obama’s ConnectED Taxes Americans
President Obama announced increased taxes on Americans on June 6, while visiting a North Carolina high school. The White House website suggests the new education initiative, ConnectED, “will connect 99% of America’s students to the internet through high-speed broadband and wireless within the next five years.” In order to fulfill Obama’s wish, the FCC will need to collect additional revenue. Administration officials suggest a “temporary” yearly surcharge on phone bills. Critics of adding more taxes to every American’s phone bill wonder when any temporary increase has been reversed.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls ConnectED “a win for students, a win for teachers, and ultimately a win for education for our country.” Some see ConnectED not as a win for education, but instead as a sneaky way to raise taxes to pay for Common Core computerized testing, without the need for Congressional approval.
The ConnectED Initiative will be paid for by using the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program, which is found on phone bills under the heading “Universal Service Fund.” Both phone service providers and the FCC have been accused of misusing this tax, which was originally meant to ensure internet access to rural and low-income communities.
According to the watchdog organization ProPublica, the E-Rate program has supplied “$2.25 billion to subsidize telecom and Internet services for America’s schoolchildren and library users” since its introduction. ProPublica states, “Numerous reports by Congress, the GAO and the FCC’s inspector general have criticized the E-Rate program over such issues as waste, fraud, [and] poor management. . . .” The organization claims providers have overcharged schools, sometimes by as much as 325%. (ProPublica.org, 5-01-12)
Critics of ConnectED suspect that rather than correcting deficiencies in school districts’ needs, the current quest for greater connectivity is aimed at enabling Common Core nationalized testing. Each student needs a computer and online access to take the eight to ten hours of math and English testing necessitated by Common Core. Some schools will need increased broadband width in order for all students to be online at once to complete the national tests. The increased internet capacity may also be necessary to funnel the personal tracking data that will be collected on each student and supplied to states, the federal government, and other “stakeholders.” (Stakeholders include private companies.)
The White House claims that “fewer than 20% of educators across the country say their school’s Internet connection meets their teaching needs.” (WhiteHouse.gov, 6-06-13) But a survey by the Software and Information Industry Association tells a different story. In that survey, 89% of responding teachers and administrators in K-12 schools gave the highest or second highest ranking to the statement: “High Speed broadband access is available for robust communication, administrative, and instructional needs.” Only 11% answered the query with the lowest two rankings. (Education Week Technology Counts, 3-14-13)