Louisiana School District Benefits from E-Rate Discount

A Louisiana school district that used to restrict access to the internet because its service wasn’t strong enough is now completely online and preparing for an ambitious 1-to-1 initiative by 2020, thanks to federal E-rate funds.

The Lafayette Parish School System, located an hour from the Gulf of Mexico, used to limit streaming websites to music teachers only, or to teachers who had special requests, according to the publication District Administration. Others in the district would be blocked during those times, and during state testing, the parish’s schools would disable streaming to ensure exams were not affected.

But a 2015 rule change in the FCC’s E-rate program, which provides discounts to schools and libraries for internet upgrades, has changed everything for the school district. Lafayette received an 80 percent discount on $3.5 million, the total cost of upgrading its infrastructure.

“I would not be able to accomplish this without E-rate funds,” LaShona Dickerson, district technology director, told District Administration.

The E-rate program paid for additional bandwidth, helping Lafayette prepare for the statewide move to online standardizing testing, which would require more devices, Dickerson said.

E-rate is also allowing the school district to move forward on a 1-to-1 initiative that will give Chromebooks and iPads to all students in the district’s 42 schools by 2020.

“It allows us to create personalized learning opportunities for students,” Dickerson said.

E-rate discounts range from 20 percent to 90 percent, based on a school’s economic need. The average national discount is 74 percent. Applicants typically receive funding as long as proper protocols are adhered to, such as completing competitive bids for installation or upgrade work.

Nearly 70 percent of Lafayette’s 31,000 students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, according to District Administration. So the district certainly qualified for the discount.

Some districts find the E-rate application process difficult. In 2014, $245 million in E-rate grant money was left on the table, as schools and libraries in 30 states did not apply for available funds, even though they were eligible.  

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].