How the federal E-rate program supports charter schools
By Damon Norris & Education SuperHighway
In Arizona, we have the opportunity to connect thousands of students to high-speed connectivity and improve digital learning opportunities by applying for and using the E-rate program, which was established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fund Internet services for schools.
This post is the first in a three-part series to help charter schools maximize their use of E-rate.
Why has the E-rate program worked so well?
The success of E-rate in delivering on our nation’s promise to connect all of America’s students has been driven by four key actions:
- Setting clear connectivity goals
E-rate’s 2014 modernization recognized that students needed at least 100 kbps / student of internet to support digital learning. So far, local and state leaders–including 46 governors–have committed to ensuring that classrooms have at least that much bandwidth.
- Improving affordability through price transparency
All pricing and vendor information for K-12 schools using E-rate is now free and open to the public. This transparency has led to more affordable costs and dramatically more bandwidth for schools.
- Driving the expansion of fiber networks
The FCC expanded the use of E-rate funds to pay for fiber construction costs (special construction), gave schools access to the same competitive choices as businesses, and created incentives for states to provide resources for broadband infrastructure.
In Arizona, such resources are available through The Arizona Broadband for Education Initiative (ABEI), which was established by Governor Ducey in 2016 with the support of Superintendent Douglas, the Arizona Corporation Commission and national non-profit EducationSuperHighway. These organizations worked together to maximize the E-rate program’s opportunities and make sure all Arizona students would have access to 21st Century learning.
In 2017, ABEI was enhanced through creation of an $11M Arizona State Matching Fund. These funds remain critical to finishing the job of closing the connectivity gap in Arizona and all schools are eligible to apply this year.
- Bringing Wi-Fi to every classroom
Prior to E-rate modernization, few schools had received funding to put Wi-Fi in their classrooms. By increasing the resources available in the E-rate program and allocating to every school a $150 per student Wi-Fi budget, the FCC more than tripled the number of schools with robust Wi-Fi.
Schools may apply to use their $150 per student budget for internal connections for five years – but must apply before school year 2019-2020.
How Can We Ensure that E-rate and the ABEI Continue To Support Charter Schools?
Nationally, there are an estimated 6,900 charter school districts serving in excess of 3.1 million students in the United States. In Arizona there are approximately 600 charter schools. Charter schools throughout the country have benefited from the E-rate program since the beginning. The discounts available through the program range from 20-90%, and enable schools to make costly, yet necessary, broadband infrastructure upgrades for their their students.
We are excited to work with the partners in the Arizona Broadband for Education Initiative by sharing progress and resources with our members with the goal of increasing the number of charter schools that benefit from E-rate funding. To get started, contact your state E-rate Director Milan Eaton.
With E-rate, we can close the school connectivity gap and ensure every student in Arizona has the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century.
This post was written in partnership with EducationSuperHighway, the leading non-profit focused on upgrading the Internet access in every public school classroom in America.
Stay tuned for Part II of our E-rate series, a look at how charter schools can apply for E-rate funding.