On November 13, the SLD announced the filing window dates for the upcoming Funding Year 2013 application cycle. The FCC Form 471 deadline is March 14, 2013, which makes the last possible date to file a FCC Form 470 - and wait the required 28 days - Feb. 14, 2013. Besides being one great Valentine’s Day present for us all, what does it matter? There’s plenty of time, why should an applicant try to file their Form 470 now? There is so much already going on with the upcoming Christmas holiday break, it would be easy to put off planning for the March 14th deadline and deal with it in January. My best advice for you - don’t wait. There are a number of factors that applicants should be thinking about right now.

As a first step, starting with a calendar is critical. Most applicants will need to get school board approval for something while on the application planning path. Whether it is permission to procure a service, approving vendor selections, or signing contracts, an applicant will most likely need to have an agenda item at a school board meeting. Besides marking March 14 on your calendar, mark your board dates and then count back to determine how long you will need to get items onto your board agenda. Assuming there is a board meeting before March 14, it is important to plan on having any board approval items on the February, or even January, agenda.

Now that you know the date by which your final decisions will need to be made in order to get board approval, you have to figure out how far in advance you need to start in order to comply with state, local, and E-rate procurement regulations. There is the 28 day bidding period, as well as time to evaluate bids and negotiate contract terms with service providers. This all takes time.

And don’t forget to check the calendar for Spring Break dates this year! If Spring Break is scheduled for the first or second week of March, having an application prepared prior to the break should be your goal.

At the end of every filing window, I always have clients tell me they should have started sooner. It would have eased the stress caused by trying to make decisions and hurry to make deadlines. March 14th will be here before you know it, and the time for starting sooner this year is now. One thing I have never heard from a client: “I started the planning process too soon.”

In order to help all E-rate applicants prepare and plan for FY13, Funds For Learning is offering a series of webinars designed to provide tips and best practices for the E-rate filing window. More information on the webinars and the registration links may be found here.