Just a few short months ago, students arrived at school with new pencils or backpacks or shoes, and were greeted by smiling teachers and principals, shiny desks and lockers—and, in many cases, exciting new technology that promises to transform the way teachers teach and students learn. For many schools, this new technology was made possible in part through funding from E-rate, the program created to help bring affordable access to schools and libraries across the U.S. Since it began in 1996, E-rate has helped more than 100,000 schools and libraries connect to the Internet. Nearly $4 billion is available in the program for Funding Year 2018, though the number of schools who apply for their share of E-rate funding is on the decline; applications have decreased by 29 percent since 2015.
Have you begun the E-rate filing process? Schools have from January 11 to March 22, 2018, to submit their FCC Form 471 applications, and these tips from E-rate pros may help you take some of the guesswork out of the application process.
Here are just a few important things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you conduct a competitive bidding process. It’s not unusual to have a preferred vendor, but one of the most common missteps in the E-rate application process is the failure of a school or library to consider all competitive bids equally. Your bidding process must remain open for at least 28 days. Eleven percent of E-rate denials stem from a failure to fulfill the bidding requirements.
- Identify other complementary funding sources. A comprehensive funding strategy is one of the most important elements of a successful digital learning plan. E-rate will only fund certain technologies, and as a discount program, it requires that schools provide matching funds for projects. This means E-rate can’t be your only funding source. (Don’t let this stop you from applying!)
- Manage the process year round. The most successful applicants understand that E-rate funding is a marathon, not a sprint. From competitive bidding and the application process to filing for reimbursements, the E-rate program involves many steps throughout the year. Manage your deadlines and document your work to stay ahead of the game and keep those E-rate funds flowing.
You can also visit www.cisco.com/go/erate for a lot more information, including success stories from schools who’ve used E-rate, like Wayne Highland School District in Pennsylvania and El Centro Elementary School District in California. These schools deployed new wireless technology and increased network capacity with funding support from E-rate.
So many schools have made progress thanks in part to E-rate, but we still have work to do to help other schools address high technology costs, a lack of capacity, and challenging reliability as they act to transform their own learning environments. The E-rate program is strong and E-rate funding can help. No school should miss this opportunity!
Get all the E-rate tips here.