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Guardrails on Screentime in Schools is Good Commonsense Policy

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While America’s schoolchildren are playing catch-up from years of COVID-induced learning loss, the federal government keeps expanding access to disruptive social media sites on school property. Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) recently introduced legislation, “Eyes on the Board” (S. 3074), would promote learning, and not social media scrolling, within schools.

The negative effects of social media on America’s children are more apparent every day. Whether it’s their mental health, academic performance, or ability to focus, children are suffering from serious consequences of spending too much time on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory report outlining the myriad harms that social media poses to adolescents. Yet the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to enable kids to spend even more time on social media while at school.

The FCC’s E-Rate program provides discounts for internet access and telecommunications to eligible schools. As a condition of receiving E-Rate funding, schools are required to certify that they are using technology to block or filter access to obscenity or pornography. However, there is no federal provision requiring schools to block access to distracting and addictive social media apps or websites on E-Rate subsidized services, devices, or networks.  As a result, the E-Rate program risks enabling access to distracting and addictive social media during the school day.

Now, the FCC would like to expand the E-Rate program beyond classrooms and libraries to the unsupervised environment of the school bus. This past week, the FCC adopted a Declaratory Ruling to fund Wi-Fi on school buses. This means that kids will have even more free access to sites such as TikTok and Instagram without the oversight of parents or teachers. Ironically, some of these social media sites often can have sexually explicit content that goes unnoticed.

As the FCC moves to expand E-Rate funding to school buses, the lack of such a prohibition creates a heightened risk of harm: unlike a study hall or a family’s home, there is little possibility of adult supervision since the bus driver, rightly, needs to focus on the road. At a time when children need to be incentivized with more personal interaction away from electronic screens, why is the federal government doing the exact opposite?

Sen. Cruz’s Eyes on the Board Act would prohibit schools or school districts from receiving E-Rate or Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) subsidies unless they prohibit access to social media on subsidized services, devices, and networks, facilities. It would also require schools to adopt a screen time policy, limiting the amount of time kids spend on their devices while in the classroom.

Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee CEO and President Penny Nance endorsed the bill, saying:

“Kids are sent to school to learn, not to spend hours on social media. Parents deserve complete transparency from schools about what is going on in the classrooms, especially when it comes to screentime. Parents should not have to worry about what their children are viewing on social media sites on government subsidized electronic devices. The Eyes on the Board Act is a commonsense measure to keep the focus of education where it should be, on educating children.”

This bill is an effective way to ensure kids are spending their time at school learning rather than scrolling through distracting and harmful content online. Call your senators and ask them to support S. 3074, the Eyes on the Board Act, using our action center here.