Today school districts, administrators, teachers and students are encouraging the innovative use of technology, showing how digital tools have helped improve student success by participating in Digital Learning Day.

Digital Learning Day is a “nationwide celebration of innovative teaching and learning through digital media and technology that engages students and provides them with a rich, personalized educational experience.”

Funds For Learning has had the privilege of witnessing first-hand how technology is improving the educational landscape in America. Since 1997, we have worked to help some of the most impoverished school districts in the United States secure the funding necessary to transform their classrooms into hubs of 21st century learning. The shift over the last 15 years has been nothing short of remarkable - however, there is still a long way to go to outfit every classroom in America with the technology needed to prepare students for a globally competitive marketplace.

The E-rate program has been instrumental in ushering technology into the classroom. Since 1998, the program has committed over $31 billion to schools. The success of the program is evident in its continued popularity. In 2011, applicants requested over $4.5 billion for telecommunication needs and other technology upgrades. Unfortunately, this is nearly double the available funding for 2011.

We have continually seen demand outpace available funding. Since 1998:

  • Demand for E-rate discounts has increased by 108%.
    From $2.36 billion in 1998 to $ 4.65 billion in 2011.
  • The number of applicants applying annually has increased by 28%.
    From 19,222 in 1998 to 25,598 in 2011, with school districts representing most of that growth, roughly 8,500 in 1998 to 13,000 in 2011.
  • The average E-rate funding request for telecommunications services and Internet access has increased by 161%.

    From $33,617 per applicant in 1998 to $87,899 per applicant in 2011.

 

But while it would be simple to point to the popularity of the program for the disparity in available funding in relation to demand, it would represent only half the equation. One must also consider the increase in technology costs. Since 1999:

  • The average monthly spending per site on Internet access and telecommunications services has increased 83% growing from $685/month to $1,251/month. (This figure is based on pre-discount amount.)

 

This increase represents the growing integration of technology into our schools, and the need to raise the E-rate funding cap.

The E-rate funding cap, originally set at $2.25 billion, is now adjusted for inflation at $2.29 billion. However, this increase is still a grossly insufficient amount to cover the $4.65 billion in demand. If the expectations of the E-rate program remain to “help deliver on the Broadband Plan’s goal of super high-speed anchor institutions in every community,” then the lack of funding must be addressed.

Funds For Learning has championed this cause, and recently released an open letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski imploring him to allocate funds from the Connect America Fund to help close the increasing gap between E-rate demand and available funding. In addition to the letter, FFL has given E rate stakeholders across the country the opportunity to sign the petition in support of increasing the E-rate fund.

In the race for funding, every applicant should be given equal opportunity to win.

On this Digital Learning Day it is important to advocate and tout the advances of technology. Without question, the introduction of advanced telecommunications services and 21st century technology has, and will continue to revolutionize the American classroom.

However, today we should also reflect on the fact that there is a long way to go bridge the funding divide that keeps every school from benefiting from these advancements.