With nearly all eyes cast toward Baghdad, a small but ferocious fedayeen in the U.S. House of Representatives has mounted an all-out offensive against the eRate. (See the Front Page story, “Schools lobby to save eRate” and the “eSN Special Focus: eRate Under Fire,” beginning on Page 29.)
Distraction and unawareness among the population at large are allies of the faction out of kill the eRate. Working in a convenient obscurity, these injudicious zealots have targeted one of the most successful programs ever mounted by the federal government in the service of education.
Although it’s true that every one of the eRate adversaries in the House is a Republican, educators and education advocates probably would do well to avoid casting the eRate fight in purely partisan terms. It is not yet clear, for example, that the anti-eRate putsch is embraced by all Republicans. In fact, the eRate is likely to have supporters among some in the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Senate, and even among some members of the House.
Democrats in Congress, once they awaken to the threat, might savor a partisan wrangle on the eRate, because it probably is one of the few battles they could win, even as the minority party. But for those of us interested, first and foremost, in preserving the eRate, it probably would be better to seek out and embrace all the support we can find—on both sides of the aisle.
As to those stealthy eRate enemies, we might do well to apply the lesson of the Iraqi battlefield. Confront the destructive forces. Drag their nefarious strategies into the light of day. Then watch the bully boys back down, head for the border, or skulk back into the darkness empty handed.
Victory is all but assured if supporters rally, but it could be lost without decisive, concerted action. In other words, now is the time for all good educators to come to the aid of the eRate.
We need loud, sustained communication in defense of our vital education programs. We should rise to the challenge before opposition solidifies. We should mount an educational counter-offensive aimed at those lawmakers, commissioners, and government staffers not yet committed to the attack on this vital program.
The Consortium for School Networking, the American Library Association, and a few other interested associations have taken up the torch. But many remain silent, seemingly oblivious to the threat. We should spur our somnolent professional associations to action on this issue. We should encourage corporate partners to enlist and throw their considerable powers of persuasion into the fight as well. And most importantly, we should alert parents, community education advocates, and the general news media to what’s been going on.
Saving programs from the chopping block is a far easier task than getting programs reinstated after they have been done away with.
At the same time, we mustn’t confuse legitimate and needed reforms with efforts by the few to terminate the eRate.
The alleged abuses of the eRate represent a relatively small percentage of the program as a whole, but that’s no reason not to put an end to whatever actual wrongdoing might be found. Most of the abuses alleged so far appear to be technical violations caused by lazy school officials, sloppy paperwork, or overenthusiastic applicants. But clamping down on such violations right away takes ammunition out of the hands of the opposition. In fact, the swift, firm action taken so far by the Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Co. is more likely, in the long run, to protect the eRate than to harm it.
There are more educators, parents, and corporate partners by far that favor preserving the eRate than there are misguided true-believers seeking to bring the program down.
Education has the moral high ground here, and we have the numbers to carry the day. Let’s use both to the advantage of our schools and students.
Let’s set up a din that will vibrate all the way to Washington, D.C. Let’s act right now to save the eRate.