$3 Billion in 70 Days: Tips for Expediting E-rate Funding Approval

With the E-rate application window closing soon, consider these four best practices for getting funding applications approved quickly.

The E-rate application window for Funding Year 2024 opened on Jan. 17, 2024, and schools and libraries across the country are hard at work preparing funding requests for discounts on high-speed internet and strong WiFi. Funds For Learning estimates that by the close of the window on March 27, approximately 21,000 E-rate applicants nationwide will request more than $3 billion to support discounts on critical network connectivity and infrastructure services.

Successful E-rate applicants always have a plan for ensuring that their funding requests are approved as quickly as possible — and with the least possible stress for the E-rate coordinator! Here are some of our top tips for ensuring approval of funding applications as quickly as possible.

1) File Early

Since the beginning of the E-rate program, schools and libraries that certify their funding applications early in the annual application window have the best chance of being approved in the first wave of funding commitments. As of Feb. 19, 2024 (nearly halfway through the 2024 application window), 49% of the total funding requests submitted are reported to have a "wave ready" status, a strong indicator that they may be included in the first round of funding approvals. But as the application deadline approaches, the queue for review gets longer and longer. In 2023, almost 39% of all total funding applications were certified in the last seven days of the window.

2) Respond Quickly

Every E-rate funding application is individually reviewed by the program administrator. Often, the administrator must contact the school or library to request information needed to issue a funding decision. Review questions typically have a 15-day deadline for the response, but waiting until the response deadline can add significant processing time to funding applications. If an applicant receives three rounds of questions and responds on the last day each time, more than a month-and-a-half of time will be added to the review and processing time for funding requests!

3) Document Clearly

The heartbeat of E-rate regulatory compliance is documentation. When funding applications are reviewed, it is very common for the program administrator to request documentation like quotes, invoices, or contracts to justify requested amounts, or enrollment and free/reduced lunch data to verify discount rates or Category Two budgets. Applicants who anticipate questions and gather documentation in advance can respond to inquiries quickly, and providing clear and thorough documentation can reduce the chances that additional rounds of questions will be necessary.

4) Stay Informed

The E-rate program is always in a state of change. Successful applicants stay ahead of the game by reading newsletters, viewing webinars and training sessions, and proactively tracking the status of their funding applications to reduce the chance of an error or issue that may cause delays down the road.

E-rate is a tremendous resource for ensuring that K-12 students and library patrons have access to high-speed internet and WiFi at affordable rates. While there is no official "fast pass" for funding approval, E-rate coordinators who make a plan and stay proactive have the best shot at the earliest funding commitments.

About the Author

Brian Stephens is director of stakeholder engagement at Funds For Learning, a consulting firm that helps schools and libraries navigate the complex E-rate application process.