If you work in education—whether as an administrator, technician, or educator—chances are you are familiar with the E-rate program. Simply put, E-rate (the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund) “provides discounts to assist eligible schools and libraries to obtain affordable internet access and telecommunications services.” As the role of the World Wide Web in education has continued to increase, the importance of having strong, reliable internet connection has increased as well.
Luckily for school systems, the E-rate program enables schools to prioritize the growth of their technology so that their overall level of education can grow as well. The program covers a wide variety of IT improvements that can save schools more than $1,000,000 per year.
The application season for the 2020 E-rate season is already here. Is your school taking full advantage of everything the program has to offer?
Is the E-rate Program a Good Fit for My School?
The short answer to this question is, “yes!” Any public school or charter school is eligible to receive funding for IT improvements from the E-rate program. In the past, many people have viewed the E-rate program as a solution exclusively for low income schools. But this is simply not true.
In 2019, more than $1 billion of available funds through the E-rate program went unused. This means many schools are missing out due to not maximizing their budgets or by not applying in the first place. Even if your school is only eligible for $100,000 through the E-rate program, that’s a huge budgetary savings that can be directed toward other important educational efforts. Applying for the E-rate program is always worth it.
How Can the E-rate Program Benefit My School?
As mentioned before, many schools receive more than $1,000,000 per year from the E-rate program. The amount of money your school is eligible to receive is based directly on the percentage of your student body receiving free or reduced-price meals. For example, if 50% of your students receive free or reduced-price meals, then the E-rate program will cover 50% of the cost of your IT improvements. It’s that simple.
According to the official 2019 E-rate Program Overview, schools can receive anywhere from 20% – 90% funding on the costs of eligible technology improvements. This funding applies to technology costs including data cables, access points, and network switches, which can cost schools hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Schools can use the funds from E-rate to cover a significant portion of their technology budget, allowing them to invest money elsewhere, or they can increase their technology budget and provide higher quality technology to their students. Either way, the benefits are huge!
When Should I Apply for My E-rate Benefits?
The E-rate application season opens in July of every year and closes in March. The earlier you can get in your applications, the earlier they will be approved and your school can begin planning for updates/advancements.
Each year, your school will fill out an application explaining what technology upgrades you’d like to make. This form (FCC Form 470) notifies service providers of your needs and opens up the bidding on these projects. After a minimum of 28 days has passed, your school can then choose a service provider and submit a follow-up form (FCC Form 471) outlining what services are being solicited and how much they will cost. Once approved, applications will usually be funded on or after July 1 of the coming year.
One thing to note about timing is that both the Form 470 and Form 471 must be submitted before the seasonal due date in March. Applications must be open for RFP responses for a minimum of 28 days before selecting a vendor. This means you need to submit your Form 470 application at least 28 days before the window closes so that you can also submit your Form 471 on time and be approved for funds.
Where Can I Direct My E-rate Questions?
If you have questions about eligibility, what kinds of technology updates are covered in the E-rate program, or how to apply, we’re able to answer some general questions. However, for full information on the program, visit the “Before You Begin” page on the E-rate website.