The Federal E-rate program is an essential piece in the often-confusing puzzle of school budgeting. Schools and libraries rely on the E-rate program to purchase products and services for reliable, high-speed internet connectivity – a must-have in this day and age. Each year, chief technology officers, district administrators and technology directors work diligently to complete and file the E-rate application on behalf of their district. 
 
In early July, the FCC proposed permanent budgets for funding Category 2 E-rate services. In the proposal, they expressed the need for stakeholder feedback to assist with future rulemaking for program funding. 
 
In our E-rate Coordinator Spotlight Series, we have conversations with E-rate veterans and newcomers alike on a regular basis. We ask questions and listen. As a result, we’ve compiled thoughts on improvements that experience E-rate coordinators would like to see from the FCC in 2020. 
 
#1 Change the Category 2 per-building funding cap to per-district for greater flexibility.
“Our district has many different schools with many different configurations. Since the usage of Category 2 funds is limited to a per-building basis, I end up having schools that I’m unable to fully fund, and other schools where money ends up being left on the table. A per-district allocation would be more efficient.” – Cory Boggs, Executive Director of Information Technology at Putnam City Schools
 
Currently, E-rate program Category 2 funds can only be used on a per-building basis, which can become tricky for schools with multiple sites. Unfortunately, this can lead to underutilization since the budget can’t be used districtwide. Changing the Category 2 funding cap would also relieve some of the planning stress that inevitably comes with budgeting.
 
“Having a more accurate understanding of future changes is so valuable in E-rate,” said Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer at Parish Public Schools. “For example, the looming expiration of the Modernization Order made it difficult for our district to appropriately assess where we’d be able to make improvements moving forward.”

#2 Revisit inclusion of voice services as an eligible service.
The removal of voice as an eligible service came as a shock to many. 
 
“Trying to understand the FCC’s rules can be a challenge in itself, but the larger changes, such as the removal of voice funding, can require some in-depth strategizing.” said Teresa MacDonald, Telecom Manager at Ysleta Independent School District.
 
In conversations that we’ve had with industry veterans, a consistent request is to revisit the inclusion of voice services in Category 2 funding. This improvement was reinforced by the Funds For Learning 2019 E-rate Trends Report, where 87 percent of respondents indicated that VoIP equipment should qualify for Category 2 support.
 
“The loss of Category 2 coverage for voice services made a huge impact on our district’s budget – we currently spend $200,000 per year on voice. The reinstatement of VoIP as an eligible service would be a huge relief.” – Kerrie Dennis, Network Technician at Baldwin Unified School District
 
#3 Address barriers to access the internet off-campus (at home, in the community).
“One of the largest benefits that the E-rate program provides is equitable, districtwide access to online resources, it truly helps enhance learning for students.” – Dennis Frye, Executive Director of Technology at Alamance-Burlington School District 
 
It’s clear that consistent internet access can make a huge impact on the wellbeing of community members. E-rate veterans agree that if the program could extend to remove barriers to internet access off-campus, it would be incredibly powerful.  
 
“The E-rate program has helped our library system implement faster internet and improved technology, and in turn, better community programs,” said Robert McKinney, Finance Coordinator at York County Libraries. 

These suggested improvements provide perspective on how proposed changes to Category 2 services can offer districts flexibility in leveraging vital funding for their schools. 
 
What do you have to say? Join our efforts, submit comments in response to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)
 
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