Time to ask for more eRate funding

Here’s the rub

eRate funding has remained essentially flat since its inception. The program’s $2.25 billion annual cap was set back in 1998, well before broadband, tablets, and smart phones existed. Gosh, in 1997 we were thrilled with 56 baud modems and floppy disks! Quite simply, the eRate’s current funding level is insufficient to meet today’s need. For instance, this year’s $5 billion in funding requests is more than double available funds.

We are at a moment when the need for broadband connections in classrooms couldn’t be more pressing. As President Obama pointed out: “(T)he average American school has about the same bandwidth as the average American home, even though obviously there are 200 times as many people at school as there are at home. Only around 20 percent of our students have access to true high-speed internet in their classroom.”

Estimates say that doubling the eRate would cost about 40 cents more per month on the average consumer’s telephone bill—or about $5 per year. Can’t every American afford less than 2 cents a day to fund such a critical investment?

How can your voice be heard?

It is vital that the education community—including parents, students, and business leaders—speaks with a strong and united voice on the need for more eRate funding.

Fortunately, it’s easy to do. First, visit www.edtechactionnetwork.org for the latest information on the campaign to raise the eRate cap and how you can take action. Second, add your name to the “99 in 5” campaign, a call for policy makers to act swiftly to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed wireless internet access within the next five years.

Mooresville Graded School District, the site of President Obama’s ConnectED speech, shows the dividends this can reap. Five years ago, after years of underperforming, Mooresville decided to reimagine its curriculum by fully transitioning to a digitally based learning environment. Today, Mooresville students have their own devices, are connected 24/7, and are learning in a personalized fashion. While technology alone is not the reason, it has been the catalyst for some astounding results. For instance, Mooresville’s academic composite on state high-stakes tests improved from 68 percent to 89 percent (second highest in the state)—and its four-year cohort graduation rate improved from 68 percent to 90 percent (third highest in the state).

Mooresville should not be the exception, but the rule. We want all our students to be college, career, and life ready, and ensure that our classrooms provide innovative and engaging learning environments.

Why do we have faster internet access at the local coffee shop than in the average classroom? Let’s change that situation. Tell the FCC that we need more eRate funding. If we don’t make noise now, we might never get another chance.

Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), an education technology leadership association.

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