Intentional Learning and the New E-rate

Funds For Learning® kicked off our staff training on the new E-rate with a two day workshop at the end of July. Our team of E-rate guides sat down together to familiarize ourselves with the new E-rate rules, develop strategies to address the changes, and assess the flow of work to help our clients through the different steps of the process. This workshop kicked off our ongoing fall training and development meetings, dedicated to understanding the new rules and how we can best guide our clients through the new E-rate process for Funding Year 2015, while still maximizing efforts to realize committed funds from prior years and remain compliant with the rules that govern them.

Funds For Learning® E-rate Guides Aaron Henderson and Zach McLemore share their experiences and highlight some of things that they learned from the workshop in their commentaries below.

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Aaron Henderson

One of the highlights of the workshop for me was the opportunity to come together and think about the best ways to communicate the new E-rate rules to our clients, so they not only know what they are, but also how to make the most of the new program. At the same time, we need to make certain that they still know the old program rules that may apply to funding or services that are being received right now.

The new program rules create new dynamics and shifting workloads between the teams that we have assigned to different pieces of the program. Our team structure provides us with the flexibility to dynamically allocate our resources as needs change. This really gives us the opportunity to overcome new challenges, like reviewing invoices to be used both for FY 2014 reimbursement and FY 2015 supporting documentation for applications, or preparing a greatly increased number of applications for network equipment compared to previous years.

Funds For Learning® has done a great job of anticipating program reforms by remaining flexible and ready to change. At the same time, we continue to rely on the GuideMarksTM that have always defined us, particularly on being proactive and thorough while adapting to the new rules. The intentional learning that we practice during our staff fall training sessions will pay off as we move into the filing window.

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Zach McLemore

We get great results from our collaboration, spurring ideas from one another to create solid plans to move forward, which really helps us as we prepare our clients for the FY2015 filing window. Some of the helpful things that we talked about were identifying new ways to track progress through the application cycle, and using our time wisely to address both Funding Year 2015 and prior funding years.

It’s going to be helpful for applicants to finally know that, first of all, they can get E-rate funding for internal connections, and also that they will have greater certainty to know how much support they will receive over the next five years. If they plan for the future and have a five-year deployment strategy, applicants will have a much better idea of how the E-rate program can help fund their networks. One of our goals with this work shop was to think of ways to help our clients make sure they can do this, while staying compliant with all of the program rules.

One of the new challenges that we looked at is the increased amount of review on BEAR and SPI forms, even as the pre-commitment review has become more streamlined. This can increase the risk for applicants if an unforeseen finding comes after they have paid for services or goods, rather than before. We are working on our strategies for documentation and review to try and reduce that risk for our clients as much as possible.

The new E-rate changes give some great opportunities for applicants, and I am encouraged by the efforts of the FCC and USAC to streamline the application process. I’m looking forward to seeing the ways that they will continue to reform the program as they evaluate the changes over the next couple of years.