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Innovative district expands access like never before using E-rate

Reforms and modernization to the E-rate, including Category 2 funding, made an unprecedented infrastructure refresh possible.

Thanks to a major funding refresh, one district found that it’s now possible to support its one-to-one initiative without scaling back access for other services or devices. Could your district do the same?

The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) historic E-rate modernization in 2014 paved the way for districts to expand their high-speed broadband and wi-fi and increase digital learning opportunities for students.

Before the modernization, Category 2 services were called Priority 2 services and were funded only after all requests for Priority 1 services (telecommunications services and internet access) were funded–but that meant most schools had no leftover E-rate funding for wi-fi equipment and other internal connections.

And now, school districts across the nation are able to improve digital learning opportunities and expand wi-fi for teachers and students.

In Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish Schools, LaShona Dickerson, the district’s director of technology, has leveraged Category 2 funding to update her district’s infrastructure to support a one-to-one rollout.

Working with Funds for Learning regarding E-rate processes, Dickerson and her team have updated the district’s phone system, implemented a student information system, improved financial payroll processes, and incorporated tools and resources that empower teaching and learning.

“We were able to do a lot of this because of E-rate funding,” Dickerson said. “We work on a limited budget–everything we do has to be planned and strategic, and always has to be a collaborative effort.”

(Next page: An infrastructure upgrade paves the way for unprecedented access)

A Hallmark Initiative

Dickerson’s hallmark initiative is the district’s infrastructure upgrade, which supports its one-to-one initiative without scaling back access for other services.

“If we hoped to bring more devices onto our network, we had to improve the infrastructure,” she said. Increasing bandwidth was especially important to avoid scaling back various services to accommodate testing and other high-bandwidth services.

The district moved from a 1 gigabyte network to a 10 gigabyte network, enabling more access and functionality.

“Scaling back on bandwidth put some teachers at a standstill if they were streaming videos or doing something similar,” Dickerson said. “I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Working with Aruba, which provides the district’s wireless access points, the technology team also is experimenting with access control to ensure unnecessary applications don’t eat up bandwidth.

“Because of the E-rate, I’m extremely proud of our accomplishments this past year, because now all of our classrooms have a wireless access point,” Dickerson said.

“The Category 2 budget allowed Lafayette a fixed amount at each location to apply toward network infrastructure, which really is what’s necessary to get that bandwidth increase,” said Cathy Cruzan, Funds For Learning president. “They had to have it without throttling back other classrooms–that need existed, and continues to grow, but to actually provide that speed, you have to have the necessary network infrastructure. The reform guarantees that funding.”

A Site-Specific Challenge

One challenge, however, lies in how Category 2 funding is structured. The funding is site-specific, though many say they would prefer funding on a district level to spread it across various sites as needed.

“The challenge with the reform is that while the budget allocation is great, forcing it to a single site location puts some limitations,” Cruzan said.

Off-campus access is another challenge Funds For Learning hopes to address with the FCC.

Funds For Learning has submitted comments to the FCC in support of off-campus use, and those comments include information about low-income housing and proximity to E-rate networks, Cruzan said.

“I would like to see [connectivity] extended into the school neighborhoods for students in that school’s zone,” Dickerson said. Wherever the device is, I want our students to be connected. We do a great job of selecting the device, but when they leave school, they don’t have access, and the purpose of having this connectivity is so students can get online.”

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