The Covid-19 pandemic has illuminated huge blind spots in our education system, especially in technology. As schools across the country fluctuated between being remote and adopting a hybrid model, many of them struggled to equip students and teachers with the adequate technology needed to smoothen this transition. And now that schools are beginning to reopen again at full capacity, it’s time to think about what schools should do differently, to offer students across the country similar opportunities.
Technology is expensive, and most schools struggle with funding. But as technology becomes more and more integrated into our world, with the number of jobs that require some technological work increasing by 59% from 2002 to 2016, technology in schools is a must. With good technology, schools can access millions of teaching resources online, teach students computer skills, and prepare them for a tech-savvy world. And this is especially crucial for schools that struggle with budgets, and that have overcrowded classrooms needing every possible resource. But how can schools afford it?
The answer is actually simple: eRate. The eRate program was established as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which strived to give all Americans access to affordable technology. ERate—more formally known as the Schools and Libraries Universal Service Fund—was a part of this act, aimed at giving K-12 schools and libraries technology at discounted rates, especially schools in rural areas, or with a high number of low-income students.
How is eRate funded?
The good news is that the eRate program is very much still in effect, with their funding backed by the Universal Service Administrative Company, or USAC. In fact, the funding cap for the program continues to increase; in 2015 the funding was capped at $3.9 billion, and in 2019 it was capped at $4.15 billion. Through this funding, eRate can provide technological discounts from 20 to 90 percent, based on an individual school’s needs. And this year, there’s a second window to file for eRate, for schools that need additional technology to keep up with remote learning.
What does the funding cover?
ERate funding doesn’t cover every kind of technology, but they can cover a lot of technological infrastructure that will allow schools to take full advantage of the Internet and technology. Though eRate doesn’t fund personal devices, like computers or servers, they can cover data services, Internet access, internal connections, and maintenance of internal connections. In simple terms, eRate can cover technology related to the Internet, telecommunications, and network connections, like switches, access points, cabling, battery backups, and more. By covering these critical, and expensive parts of technological infrastructure, eRate ensures that schools will be able to use speedy, stable technology to better teach their students. Investing in the proper infrastructure—through eRate—will save schools money in the long run, and will save a lot of time in troubleshooting.
How do you apply?
To apply for eRate funding, the first step is to assess what devices or services your school needs. Then, your school requests a bid using a form on the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) website. USAC will post these requests online, and different vendors will bid on what items they would like to supply for the schools. Your school will then look at the bids that you’ve gotten, and choose the most cost-effective option. After this has been approved by the USAC, IT professionals will install the new technology in the school.
Schools already do such heroic work while being so underfunded; they should at least be able to provide their students with access to good technology without too much of a financial hassle. This has been important for a long time, but it’s especially important now, after the covid-19 pandemic revealed just how much we need to incorporate technology into learning. Luckily, eRate is a program that aims to connect all students, regardless of their location or income status, with the information and knowledge available online. Through eRate, schools can afford to upgrade their technology to better serve their students, preparing them for their futures. And schools don’t have to go through this daunting process alone. CNS Partners has helped many schools with assessing their technological needs, submitting the eRate bid, and helping with the eRate installation. We are here to answer any questions, and offer whatever support you need to best improve your school.
In this day and age, technology goes hand in hand with teaching. There are means to acquire the right, affordable technology for your school, no matter your budget, and we are here to help. Learn how you can implement modern technology in your classroom with our Educational IT Services. We help educators find affordable solutions to augment teaching in their classrooms. Read more in our eBook, Using technology to help shape the next generation.