Policy & Funding
E-rate Opens Latest Application Window Even as Educators Push for Program Expansion
- By Dian Schaffhauser
The latest E-rate
application filing window has opened and will close at 11:59 p.m.
Eastern time on Mar. 25, 2021. This will be the 24th year that the
program, run by the Universal
Service Administrative Company (USAC), has funded
communications technology for schools and libraries. This year's
program introduces a few tweaks, meant to address equity and
streamline the application process. But what's left unfunded are some
of the larger wishlist items put forward by the education sector to
address the digital divide.
According to Funds
for Learning, an E-rate consultancy, funding year 2021
brings the finalization of a handful of rule changes, introduced by
Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees USAC.
Those include these modifications:
Category Two budgets will be calculated at $167 per student, and
library applicants at $4.50 per square foot. The per-site funding
"floor" is increasing from $9,200 to $25,000.
budgets will be calculated on a school district or library system
basis. School districts and libraries will have a single budget to
transfer rules will be" relaxed." Equipment purchased in
this fiscal year round and those going forward can be transferred
between eligible sites at any time.
According to Funds
for Learning, items two and three will deliver increased flexibility
to applicants while decreasing program complexity.
But the real changes
school IT leaders would like to see have to do with more immediate
needs of helping students who lack internet access at home. A group
of education advocates, led by the Schools,
Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, petitioned
the FCC this week to allow schools to use E-rate
funding for the purchase and distribution of internet hotspots,
expanded Wi-Fi access on library grounds and Wi-Fi "on the go"
with technology-equipped mobile units, including school buses.
closing this 'homework gap' will require a major investment from
Congress and the Biden administration, but the FCC can take an
important first step by using existing E-rate funds to provide
temporary emergency help," said signatory Anna Maria Chávez,
executive director and CEO of the National
School Boards Association, in a statement. "There
is no time to waste. Our students need a life raft."
pick to lead the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, has long been a proponent
of expanding the mandate of E-rate to include providing broadband
access for underserved students, including those in rural areas.
However, until the FCC commission has added a fifth member, Acting
Chair Rosenworcel could be stymied by politics in her efforts to
expand E-rate coverage -- at least until a fifth commissioner is
appointed. The make-up of the current commission includes two
Democratic appointees (Rosenworcel and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks)
and two Republican appointees (Nathan Simington and Brendan Carr).
Under the former administration, the FCC made no moves to expand the
use of E-rate funding outside of the borders of schools and libraries
to address the remote learning.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.