Most districts working to personalize learning through the use of technology have a vested interest in the future of E-rate. The program, which many argue has revolutionized how schools use technology, has gone through iterations of improvement over the years, and most recently was modernized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when they voted to set aside funding for Wi-Fi connectivity. The program, according to the FCC, “makes telecommunication and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. In recent years, the FCC has refocused E-rate from legacy telecommunication programs to broadband.”
The Center for Digital Education annually conducts its Digital School Districts survey in partnership with the National School Boards Association. The survey examines how information technology is applied to improve service delivery and quality of education to public schools. All school districts are invited to participate. Winners are honored at the NSBA Annual Conference and Exposition each April.
The responses give incredible insight into the desired changes K-12 school districts are requesting be made to E-rate. Respondents were asked to identify their most-desired changes to E-rate and the top three are:
Reduce the amount of paperwork required and simplify the application process Increase funding levels Allow funding for a wider variety of technology purchases and projects Reduce the Amount of Paperwork Required and Simplify the Application Process
This category tied for third most desired change to E-rate, the responses characterized the application process as complex, convoluted and time-consuming. Several respondents indicated that the complex and tedious E-rate application process forced them to hire a consultant, as staff are either overworked or unknowledgeable about the process to complete it themselves. Districts would like to see paperwork minimized and online forms simplified so that staff can apply for E-rate with ease.
Increase Funding Levels
The second-most desired change to E-rate is to increase funding levels, specifically Category 2 funding, as respondents indicated that it would be beneficial if qualifications and awards were evaluated based on the needs of each school division.
Allow Funding for a Wider Variety of Technology Purchases and Projects
Many district leaders would like to see E-rate funding expand to cover a wider variety of IT purchases and projects. Several respondents argued that the current Category 2 funding model does not account for the differences in needs of individual schools, such as physical layout and student count. Respondents would like more freedom to use all E-rate funds based on their individual needs; and would especially like more flexibility with Category 2 funding. The most desired areas in need of funding were Internet access at home for students, end-user devices and refresh. Respondents would also like the FCC and USAC to reinstate funding for voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and telecommunications.
What Do You Think?
Do these priorities line up with yours? Is anything surprising? Let’s get the attention of the FCC and let them know what we expect in terms of E-rate. There is always room for improvement, and we must use data to inform change. Be on the lookout for more data insights from CDE’s 2017-2018 Digital Districts Survey.