“You just never know what’s going to happen. You could have a year when some funding gets reallocated, like in 2010. Or, you could have a funding year where the rules change in midstream, and … that might lower the discount threshold,” Stephens said.
Not only does submitting an application increase your chances of getting funded—after all, you can’t receive discounts if you don’t apply—but it also lets the FCC know there’s a high demand for Priority Two connectivity.
For funding year 2012, there will be at least $2.29 billion available for distribution. The official amount has not been announced, but as of last year, the $2.25 billion-a-year funding cap originally established for the program now increases each year to account for inflation.
3. There are alternative ways to calculate your discount level.
“The National School Lunch Program eligibility is one of the methods that can be used to calculate the discount rate, but there are other methods that can be used as well,” Stephens said.
For example, many applicants have had great success in conducting a survey to determine their discount rate, as oppose to using the NSLP numbers, he said. For one reason or another, school district officials might believe their NSLP participation numbers don’t accurately reflect the relative poverty level in their area. There are specific requirements about the kinds of questions you should ask and the return rate you get on responses; USAC provides sample survey tools on its website for reference.
4. Be ready for an audit.
“Document retention is critical to success in the eRate program,” Stephens said. “It’s really not enough to do things correctly. You need to be able to prove that you’ve done things correctly.”
The most successful applicants are the ones who have very robust and organized document retention policies and procedures, he said.
Keeping documentation organized involves a lot of cooperation within school districts, Stephens said. Many departments have to work together: Verification of school lunch data might fall to food services, competitive bidding might fall to accounts payable, and implementing the services might fall to the technology department.
“Getting that coordination to occur and making sure everyone is on the same page is critical,” Stephens said. “Sadly, there are a lot of applicants every year who have funding either denied or rescinded because they were unable to produce documentation that proves they were compliant with some type of program requirement.”