School eMail, Websites Hit by eRate Changes

When it comes to operating online, “we’re more sophisticated today than even five years ago,” Abshire said. In her district of 33,000 students and 5,000 employees, students submit homework online, teachers are posting content and interacting with parents, and district officials are handling thousands of electronic transactions.

“You can’t do that with a bunch of free websites,” she said, adding that it’s “laughable” anyone would think so.

Not including eRate discounts, Calcasieu Parish spends about $70,000 a year for enterprise-level website services from Schoolwires. Now, Abshire’s school system will be responsible for this entire cost itself. She referred to the shifting of eRate funding from website hosting to broadband infrastructure as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

As for eMail, Calcasieu Parish hosts its own eMail service using Microsoft Exchange. While the basic Office 365 Education service is free, it doesn’t include the eMail archiving that is required under state law, Abshire noted. A plan that includes eMail archiving, legal hold capabilities, and eDiscovery compliance tools starts at $2.50 per student and $4.50 per staff member, per month.

Jeff Patterson, founder and CEO of Gaggle, which provides a suite of safe, secure communications tools for schools, said the eRate rule change might be an inconvenience for his customers—but it would not affect his company’s business.

“Our school district customers are not looking for low-cost services to keep their students safe,” he said. “Did your local high school football team look for cheaper helmets when they had less money to spend this year on equipment?”

Patterson added: “Our customers want to find the right communication tools … so their teachers can focus on helping their students become capable 21st-century learners.”

See also:

A $5 billion bounty: How to use eRate support for Wi-Fi

New eRate rules invite a new approach: Managed Wi-Fi

eRate changes prompt new voice options for schools

Part five of this series will examine other eRate rule changes, including a new way to calculate your discount percentage—which could benefit some school districts while hurting others. Watch for more information.

Dennis Pierce

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