What’s New in the Technology & Innovation Department: E-Rate

With temperatures in the 50s this past weekend, it finally seems as though spring is in sight.  While day-to-day technology support needs in the district tend to hit a bit of a lull at this time of year – many chronic issues have been solved, and most new technology initiatives and programs are well-established – this is a busy time of year from a planning perspective.

Usac LogoEvery February marks the beginning of E-Rate season, when districts apply for federal funding to support internet connectivity.  Historically, this has covered a portion of the costs for school internet and phone connections, as well as building-to-building network connections and other internal communications technologies, although the latter categories must pass through a lengthy qualification process.  While the paperwork to apply for and receive funding is onerous, the funding opportunities are substantial, as the district saves more than $60,000 per year through E-Rate funding.  In fact, our savings over the past five years have been: 

FY 2016 $67,776
FY 2015 $64,908
FY 2014 $75,560
FY 2013 $62,742
FY 2012 $48,483

A couple of years ago, the E-Rate program was modernized, which affects us in a number of ways.  First, funding support for phone connections is being phased out, which makes sense as virtually no schools still obtain internet connectivity via phone lines.  Further, funding for category two requests – which ICCSD has almost never qualified for given funding balanced against our free/reduced lunch rate – is now allocated on a capped, 5-year budget, which combined with additional funding for category two services will allow ICCSD a significantly better opportunity to receive funding.  

We’re putting this to use this year, as we recently completed bid processes – or have currently open requests for proposal –  that will fund fiber construction within the district, network core infrastructure upgrades, wireless upgrades at our high schools in advance of our 1:1 initiative, and internet firewall-related projects.  Based upon this year’s eRate funding formula, the district will be eligible for reimbursement of approximately 60% of our costs for these projects, should they be approved for funding, resulting in a savings of as much as $420,000.  In addition to these projects, we will also continue to receive reimbursements for priority one services, specifically including the district’s connection to the internet, which is set to be tripled for the coming school year to accommodate increased demand due to our influx of devices.

While I always dread the red tape of E-Rate season, it is nonetheless exciting to see the amount of money that we can save each year that helps to make our technology offerings more affordable, while freeing up funding to directly support educational opportunities for our students.