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Why E-rate expansion is a must for our schools

With some districts and schools still struggling to meet bandwidth needs, keeping E-rate strong is more vital than ever

e-rate-broadbandAs a former school superintendent, and as the current head of the School Superintendents Association (AASA), I know firsthand that staying ahead of the curve when it comes to high technology isn’t easy. The digital concept is so important for our schools today. That’s why especially pleased when, recently, the Federal Communications Commission and the Universal Service and Administrative Company extended a crucial filing deadline related to the high-speed internet program in schools and libraries, commonly known as E-Rate.

The extension provides school districts, particularly rural districts, time to submit applications to secure funding and ultimately increase connectivity in their communities (the new deadline is April 16). Since its inception, the AASA has advocated for the E-rate program and the critical role it plays when it comes to the rapid and dramatic expansion of school and library connectivity.

Currently, we are working with superintendents around the nation to ensure they have the proper planning and professional development in place to provide our students with digital learning.

As the roles of connectivity and technology within our schools continue to evolve, modernizing the E-rate program is a huge priority for us. In December, the program took a bold step forward when the FCC voted to raise the E-rate funding cap by $1.5 billion. An investment of this magnitude has a huge benefit for children, teachers and, ultimately, American competitiveness. It’s significant and represents strong, sound policy. What’s more, it demonstrates the FCC’s ongoing commitment to the core values of the E-rate program, including access to 21st century learning opportunities, equity and supporting—in a sustainable way—the E-rate program’s transition from mere connectivity to sufficient capacity.

Next page: How AASA is making a difference

The funding cap increase is a critical complement to a series of programmatic changes the FCC adopted last July. Together, the funding cap increase and programmatic changes modernize E-rate in a way that makes it flexible and sustainable—a program that can continue to meet the ever-growing connectivity need of our nation’s schools and the students they serve.

AASA members have been holding meetings with the FCC as well as members of Congress for years. As the individuals who are at the helm of our nation’s school districts, superintendents have a vested interest in this modernization movement. Last summer, a vote on E-rate modernization fell during our Legislative Advocacy Conference. School system leaders met on Capitol Hill with their respective legislators, communicating our deep concerns with the proposed plans. Member-driven advocacy, echoing AASA sentiment, covered both chambers and both sides of the aisle. Our advocacy proved critical to pushing the FCC to adopt significant changes that made the proposal one we could support.

In order for students to achieve academic success and compete in our global economy, high-speed connectivity is a must. E-rate represents the single largest source of education technology funding for our schools and libraries, and the fourth largest federal education program. Though most schools and libraries are now connected to the internet, the quality and speed of that connection does not always meet demands. We still have school districts that do not have the technological capacity to keep up with the mandated online formative assessments and the tracking of massive amounts of data through state longitudinal data systems.

Opportunities to improve connectivity are not going away. We’ve been involved in the E-Rate conversation since the program began in 1996 and we will continue to advocate for this important program. This is all part of our effort to push forward our nation’s digital leap—an endeavor we’re all working toward.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

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