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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday took a first step toward allowing schools to use a federal funding program to help students connect to the internet at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: Schoolwork has gone remote because of the pandemic, but the FCC funding that schools receive for internet connections doesn't extend beyond the physical classrooms.

Details: The commission on Monday said it would seek comment on several requests to use the $4 billion E-rate program to support remote learning during the pandemic.

  • Acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel, who began leading the agency in January, has called for the FCC to update the program in light of the pandemic.
  • The Biden administration issued an executive order encouraging the FCC to "increase connectivity options for students lacking reliable home broadband" as part of its COVID-19 response plan.
  • The Colorado attorney general and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition are among the players that have pressed the agency to change the program during the pandemic.

What they're saying: "Kids shouldn’t have to do homework in parking lots because that’s the only place they can get online," Rosenworcel said in a statement.

  • "We can do better. We can close the homework gap. Today’s action is the first step in a process to hear about the emergency relief communities are seeking and to chart a path forward for the FCC to help solve this crisis.”

Between the lines: During the Trump administration, the Republican-run commission said the law requires the funding be used in classrooms and couldn't be expanded to students' homes.

  • The FCC is currently deadlocked at 2-2, but Rosenworcel could have some leeway to make program changes without a full commission vote.

Go deeper

St. Paul students head back to their classrooms

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The youngest learners in St. Paul Public Schools are headed back to the classroom for the first time since March. Pre-K through 2nd grade can go back today, while grades 3-5 return Feb 16.

Why it matters: With distance learning, kids in Minnesota and beyond are falling behind — and missing out on other essential services and support schools provide.

GOP senators release details of $618 billion COVID relief package

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A group of 10 Senate Republicans that are seeking a compromise on a COVID-19 relief package released the details of their $618 billion proposal Monday, ahead of a meeting with President Biden.

By the numbers: The proposal includes $160 billion in spending toward the direct response to the pandemic, including money for vaccines, testing and tracing, treatment, and medical equipment.

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say.