Schools Save Big Dollars By Becoming an Internet Service Provider

Electronic School, January 1999, p. A14

Some schools have solved the technology funding problem by starting up for-profit ISP companies whose revenues support their schools.

By selling Internet access to their communities, schools are able to pay for the costs of providing Internet access to their students and teachers. Some schools launch ISPs that make enough profit to fund additional technology equipment, while others are designed to break even with their Internet access costs.<

But before you rush out and start up an ISP at your school, consider these expert tips from those who have been there:

  1. Make sure there’s community demand. You don’t want to become an ISP if your community is already well-served by a number of different Internet service providers. Rural and small-town locations are most ideally suited, provided you have enough of a subscriber base. And if your community is too large, demand could outstrip your ability to meet it.

  2. Get tech experts. You won’t be able to start your own ISP without in-house computer and networking experts who can help manage the ISP’s operations. People with a technology and business background would be best.

  3. Watch for legal pitfalls. You must consult with a lawyer before forming any kind of for-profit enterprise on school property to ensure that you’re not breaking any laws. This area of the law is gray, but with advice from a lawyer, you should be able to navigate around any pitfalls.

  4. Get help from students. To help support the customer demands on an ISP, you’ll need to enlist the help of your students. This provides an invaluable experience for them in technology and an actual business that will better prepare them for a high-tech job market.
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Lack Of Long-Term Funding Proves Greatest Barrier To Sustained Financing Of Technology

Electronic School, January 1999, p. A10

Most schools and districts have made large strides in initial fundraising efforts, but many neglect to think about how to sustain funding in the long-term.

Here are five core barriers to fundraising that you must contend with:

  1. Resistance to new taxes to pay for education technology

  2. High levels of competition among districts for the same scarce funds

  3. Too few people on your fundraising staff

  4. Restrictions on funds targeted for specific programs or student income levels

  5. Lack of funds that can pay for tech support and maintenance staff

Even when technology dollars are built into budgets, you’ll still have a lot of ongoing costs associated with technology.

Experts advise aggressively applying for grants and forging business partnerships with high-tech corporations and service providers. Another good funding source is “certificates of participation,” which offer low-discount loans to districts based on real estate collateral. Local districts can also expect to see increased funding from state legislatures trying to create equity and uniform technology standards across their state.

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Superintendent’s Plan To Cut Tech Funding Draws Fire

Education Week, January 27, 1999, p. 7

The superintendent for Fairfax County, Va., came under fire when the budget he submitted to the school board cut $8 million in new technology funding from the amount officials had initially planned.

Parents, members of the business community, and other stakeholders criticized the move in this suburban Washington district, which is laden with technology and telecommunications companies.

The superintendent’s plan would reduce from 8,000 to 5,500 the number of new computers purchased, and would cut back on staff training as well.

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Top Five Fundraising Ideas That Are Proven To Work

Technology & Learning, February 1999, p. 54

Here are five innovative ways school districts are successfully funding their technology initiatives:

  1. Form a non-profit foundation. The Fair Haven School District in New Jersey created a foundation that awards teachers “mini-grants” valued up to $1,000. But forming a foundation isn’t always quick and easy—even with support from volunteers and members of the community, the foundation still took more than six months to launch. And you have to be careful to avoid fundraising conflicts with the PTA and other groups at your school.

  2. Think of creative ways to raise dollars. Officials in Clark Country, Nev., have looked beyond mere corporate donations to fund their technology initiatives. Their tactics included partnering with a semi-pro hockey team, hosting fundraising dinners, conducting membership drives, and even selling greeting cards

  3. Aggressively pursue corporate sponsors. An intermediate school in Brooklyn, N.Y., transformed its aging and obsolete computer lab into a cutting-edge center by partnering with Sun Microsystems to create a demonstration lab in their school. The school has also forged partnerships for teacher training and support.

  4. Join a consortium. The combined purchasing and fundraising power of a consortium allowed the rural Keystone Central district in Pennsylvania to acquire nearly 2,000 computers and provide Internet access at deeply discounted rates to its community.

  5. Apply for grants. This has been the winning recipe at the Governor Mifflin school district in Pennsylvania, which also created its own foundation arm. Grant writing is still a great way to obtain funding. As soon as teachers get an idea for equipment and projects, you should start applying for grants. The more aggressive you are, the more likely you will get funding. And be sure to share winning ideas and proposals so you can learn from what works.

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