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Edtech experts in the know share how the federal E-rate, along with other grant programs, can make edtech dreams a reality.

How the E-rate and grants can help fund your edtech plans

Edtech experts in the know share how the federal E-rate, along with other grant programs, can make your edtech dreams a reality

As schools and districts strive to meet their existing technology needs and prepare for the future, access to federal and state funding, along with other grants, is making a major difference in whether students engage in 21st century learning or are left behind.

And with online assessments now being required in many states, reliable broadband access is also essential so that students’ knowledge and skills are accurately represented, and technology is not a barrier to achievement and its documentation.

Related content: 4 things to ask about E-rate funding

During a recent webinar, edtech experts provided an overview of the E-rate program, state matching funds, and ways to obtain grants for technological development. Tapping these funding sources can be a challenge, especially for smaller districts, but there are resources and other types of support available.

Accessing the E-Rate and matching state funds

Sheryl Abshire, Ph.D., an edtech specialist at Abshire Consulting, explained that the E-rate program is administered by the Federal Communications Commission specifically to help schools with connectivity and internet access, and the U.S. Department of Education does not provide funding for this purpose.

Investment in these areas and a strategy for obtaining E-rate discounts should be part of every district’s five- or ten-year technology plan, so that schools can continue to have reliable service that accommodates changing needs. And while the E-rate program cannot be used for device purchases and professional development, it can free up other funds for those purposes.

Josh Chisom, a program manager at EducationSuperHighway, identified 22 states that now provide matching funds which can be combined with the E-rate program, and he noted that two more states are proceeding with plans to provide these types of funding. Application processes vary, based on the state, as do disbursements.

Cynthia Schultz, Esq., a managing member of the Broadband Law Group, said there is “a lot going on at the state level with digital equity and getting the right connectivity.” This is likely to be especially important in light of what is being called the “fourth industrial revolution,” which includes emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and 5G networks.

Responding to changing needs and funding opportunities

Dr. Abshire pointed out that the challenges for today’s district leaders include protecting students’ data and other information, filtering content, and establishing acceptable use policies for students and teachers. There needs to be secure, robust, and reliable networks that provide access to digital content as technologies evolve, and in many districts another growing concern is equitable access, both in and out of school.

To obtain funding for these and other edtech needs, Dr. Abshire recommended the development of a strategy or “recipe” that includes the integration of program elements, such as project design and alignment of components. There should also be a focus on high quality and continuous improvement, with professional development and ongoing evaluation of progress, all tied to high standards.

Reviewers of grant proposals will be looking at how the grant proposal ties in with the district’s overall plan, and in particular how the technology funds will be used to impact student learning. Proposal reviewers will also focus on the outcomes, both in terms of how they were developed and how the funding will help to achieve those goals. Another important factor is whether the project could be replicated elsewhere.

Dr. Abshire also stressed the importance of showing how the district will tap other resources, such as volunteers or alternative funding sources, and explaining why a project is uniquely important for your district, rather than using a general, templated approach. And she noted the importance of doing the “little things” right, such as using correct spelling and good grammar, following all the directions, and meeting the deadlines.

By reaching out to a variety of sources, including state E-rate coordinators and even local vendors, who may have their own discount programs and can provide information about the latest available technologies, district edtech leaders can keep pace with the changes and funding needed to prepare students for success in the 21st century.

About the presenters

As the former Chief Technology Officer for the Calcasieu Parish Public Schools Lake Charles, Louisiana for 20+ years, Dr. Sheryl Abshire served as a catalyst for technology integration throughout the nation and internationally, providing leadership on numerous national, state, and district committees focusing on the roles of technology and curriculum in changing educational practice. A 40+ year veteran educator, Sheryl has served as a school principal, K-5 teacher, library/media specialist, classroom teacher, university professor and is an ISTE Certified Educator and Ed Tech specialist and consultant. In 2010 the FCC appointed her to the USAC board representing the nation’s schools and libraries on ERATE. She was the 2013 recipient of the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training, NCTET Community Builder Award for exemplary service supporting policies and practices designed to facilitate effective technology integration into teaching and learning across the nation’s education system. She is a past board member and chair of CoSN and is Vice President of Advocacy and Programs for LACUE.

Cynthia Schultz, Esq. is one of the nation’s leading experts in E-rate and is passionate in her work to close the digital divide. She is the Managing Member of Broadband Law Group recognized in both the public and private sectors as an authority on federal regulatory and compliance requirements governing the broadband, communications, and technology sectors focusing on education and healthcare. She served as general counsel of a broadband company, and as a partner in a major international law firm in Washington D.C., where she also specialized in technology and communications law with a focus on federal technology grants and E-Rate. Cynthia also served as the Chief Compliance Officer for the $4.7B BTOP Program at NTIA and as the Director of Service Provider Support for the $2.25B E-rate Program at USAC, where she managed compliance issues and advocated on behalf of over 4,000 service providers nationally. She received her J.D. from American University and B.A. from the George Washington University.

At EducationSuperHighway, Josh provides expert E-rate advice, analysis and training for districts, regional organizations and states across the country. Josh has 20 years of experience in K-12 and higher education. Before joining ESH, Josh was an E-rate consultant for eight years and, prior to that, a site reviewer and trainer for the Universal Service Fund. In his off hours he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, playing guitar with his rock band, and reading history books and detective novels.

About the host

Prior to joining Velocity Fiber, Greg oversaw sales for 1102 Grand (now Netrality Properties) which became one of the largest Internet interconnection hubs in the Midwest. He brings a unique insight into how the Internet works behind the scenes and has extensive experience working with school districts as well as with regional education networks. Greg is passionate about helping connect as many people as possible to affordable broadband across the United States and is active in several educational and telecommunications organizations including Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (The SHLB Coalition or SHLB). In addition, Greg is on the Board of Directors with the KC Tech Council and Overland Park, Kansas, Arts and Recreation Foundation.

Join the community

Technology in Schools is a free professional learning community on where district administrators, school leaders, and all educators can share ideas, examples, and resources that relate to integrating technology effectively in schools.

The edWeb webinar referenced above, sponsored by Velocity Fiber, can be found here.

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