After nearly four years administering the eRate program that pumped billions of dollars a year into technology budgets in schools from coast to coast, Kate Moore, president of the Federal Communications Commission’s Schools and Libraries Division (SLD), stepped down May 30.

She wants to make “a greater impact on education,” she said. She intends to be an elementary school teacher.

“I have a real deep feeling that all the work goes on in the classroom, and I’m eager to make a difference at that level,” Moore told eSchool News. “I think that schoolchildren can benefit from seasoned professionals who bring a variety of experience to the classroom.”

Since assuming command of the SLD in November 1997, the difference Moore already has made is considerable. She’s supervised the disbursement of more than $2 billion per year under the eRate, a program that provides discounts on telecommunications and other technologies for eligible schools and libraries.

“We have reached a positive milestone,” Moore said. “A report from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 77 percent of instructional rooms in public schools have internet access. This compares to 27 percent in 1997 when we first started the program.

“Even more exciting is that significant progress has been made for the most needy students,” Moore said. “So, I leave [the eRate agency] knowing that tremendous strides have been made.”

Moore was one of the founding members of the eRate program. Formerly chief financial officer at United Way of America, she oversaw the day-to-day operations of the SLD, including the development of the SLD web site, the process by which eRate applications are reviewed, and the organization’s operating budget.

“She has helped fulfill the mandate set by Congress,” said SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell. “She really took a program that was just on a piece of paper and has grown it and matured it.”

But it hasn’t been easy, Moore acknowledged–comparing the eRate program to the phoenix of legend, “which dies and rises again” out of its own ashes. “It’s had its ups and downs,” she mildly observed.

Before the eRate program could begin, its rules and regulations had to get the green light from independent auditors.

“It took us a year to complete the audit work and issue the first commitment wave,” Moore said. “We were finally able to deliver on the promise of those commitments by November 1998.”

Moore also led the development and launch of the agency’s web site, which marked the official start of the eRate program.

“It was a moment of celebration,” Moore recalled, as she described how officials and members of the press gathered in Michigan to witness the transmission of the first application.

“In that funding year, we received over 30,000 applications electronically,” Moore said.

Besides administrative obstacles, Moore and other eRate advocates also had to answer objections from critics, primarily Republican, who charged the FCC was creating a bloated program that forced long-distance telephone companies to raise their rates. This, even though it was Congress itself that initiated the eRate as part of a revision of the telecommunications act.

Moore and Cheryl Parrino, CEO of the SLD’s parent agency, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), were effective advocates for the fledgling eRate. In September 1998, they met with powerful eRate skeptic Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. After that meeting, McCain issued a press release: “While I remain concerned about the source of funding for the program, the new leadership [Moore and Parrino] causes me to believe that this program will be successful and last long into the future.”

The senator’s comments were “very reassuring and gratifying,” Moore recalled in her exclusive interview with eSchool News.

She also expressed her gratitude for the ongoing support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), whom she called “guardian angels of the program.” She cited as well the support of former FCC Chairman William Kennard and of Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Collin Powell and a longtime FCC member. The younger Powell recently was elevated to FCC chairman by President Bush.

Under Moore’s leadership, the number of applications and funding requests for the eRate increased year after year. For Funding Year Four, the demand for eRate funding is at an all-time high, she said. In the current round, the SLD reportedly received 37,188 applications from schools and libraries, requests totaling $5.195 billion. All those requests cannot be funded under current allocation levels, but the volume is a measure of the eRate’s importance and popularity.

“Considering how we started, it has been astounding to see the growth and hunger for this program,” Moore said.

Moore also spearheaded a drive to streamline the applications process, an effort that has met with considerable success but not enough to satisfy all those charged with submitting funding requests. Moore, nonetheless, takes pride in the fact that a less-demanding online process has replaced much of the paperwork.

“In Year One, only Form 470 could be filed electronically,” Moore said. Now 84 percent of the forms can be submitted online. “Also, we introduced electronic invoicing for our service providers and better reporting to our service providers regarding payment activity.”

Among other streamlined processes, Moore led the SLD to eliminate annual-application requirements for repeat customers who have multiple-year contracts.

“Looking ahead, the SLD team is committed to streamlining initiatives and automating them to reduce the burden on clients, to reduce costs, and better serve clients,” Moore said.

In her own future lies the classroom (presumably one that is wired to the internet). Moore will teach elementary school after completing a training program directed toward seasoned professionals who want to become teachers.

Said USAC chief Parrino: “All schools and libraries owe Kate a great deal for her accomplishments on their behalf. She will be sorely missed.”

Effective June 11, George MacDonald– a veteran SLD staffer currently serving as director of operations for the agency–is scheduled to assume duties as acting president of the division until a regular successor is appointed.

Links:

Schools and Libraries Division
http://sl.universalservice.org