Schools flock to the federal E-rate to bring internet into buildings; now leaders are using the funds to make sure student devices get online.

E-rate spending reveals schools’ tech evolution

Schools flock to this federal fund to bring internet into their buildings; now leaders are using these funds to make sure student devices can get online

E-rate Applicants’ Wish List: Switches and Wi-Fi

In funding year 2022, about half of the average per-site Category Two funding requested was for the purchase of network switches. This is where the rubber meets the road; switches take care of controlling traffic from a device to the internet, whether through a wireless access point or a data jack in the wall. These expenditures will allow the influx of students or library patrons who now have a school or library-issued devices to connect this device to the internet during the school day.

Next on the list was Wi-Fi equipment, with applicants spending an average of more than $6,000 per site. Over 40 percent of E-rate applicants requested E-rate funds on these devices. Data cabling was the next biggest funding request for E-rate applicants, followed by installation expenses.

But maybe the biggest change in these funds is how they are distributed. Better understanding this process can allow you to plan out your district’s technology upgrades while making sure you maximize your district’s use of E-rate funds.

The funds available for each district in Category Two are capped in five-year cycles. The current cycle began with funding year 2021 and will run through funding year 2025. A consistent funding cycle allows administrators to choose the best timing for network refreshes or upgrades, with the confidence that the entire funding cap will reset and start fresh in funding year 2026. More planning also increases the possibility that network deployment can be better managed and supported by in-school staff.

How E-rate Changes Should Alter E-rate Applicants’ Plans

More data from the recent filing period shows that the FCC is meeting one of its top goals, which is expanding E-rate support for the equipment and services needed to deliver high speed Wi-Fi to classrooms and libraries. School leaders can have confidence that they have the flexibility to deploy equipment over multiple funding years without fear that funds will be unavailable in any given year.

Another change that school leaders need to understand is that the FCC has removed the per-building cap from Category Two funding. In the past, districts typically couldn’t max out their Category Two budget caps because of the diverse nature of school sites within a typical district – variations in the age of facilities, construction materials, and infrastructure needs meant that some sites would exhaust their cap well before the need was met, while others would have excess Category Two budgets that could not be reallocated. Two years ago, the FCC removed this rule, meaning that many more districts can max out their requests and use the allotted money exactly where needed within the district.

Overall, more than 80,000 schools and libraries have applied for funds in Category Two in funding years 2021 and 2022. That’s a remarkable number that proves the need and effectiveness of the E-rate program.

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