The federal E-rate program gives schools and libraries the ability to fund necessary technologies, with broadband being high on the list. In August 2019, E-rate stakeholders agreed unanimously on reforming Category 2 to meet the modern needs of schools and libraries. 
 
The fast pace in which technology evolves means that E-rate coordinators must stay a few steps ahead of the game. We tapped into the knowledge of E-rate veterans from our weekly E-rate Coordinator Spotlight Series to compile some key advice for applicants.
 
#1 On dealing with procurement challenges
Budgeting for district technology can feel like putting a puzzle together. Each school in a district has different needs and resources available, so it’s often up to the discretion of an E-rate coordinator to decide what services are needed and where to allocate funds. 
 
“Technology as a whole is underfunded, so it’s essential to be cognizant of how to maximize E-rate funding.” – Bob Biddick, Supervisor of Infrastructure and Internet Security at North St. Paul - Maplewood Oakdale School District
 
The procurement process is separate from the E-rate application process. Applicants must file the FCC Form 470 to announce that they are seeking E-rate support to purchase eligible goods and services. 
 
“Procurements can be challenging, since you need to go through the bidding process in addition to following E-rate rules, I suggest doing multi-year contracts if possible to cut down on the annual time investment.” – Michael Brandau, E-rate Coordinator at Beaufort County School District
 
After the Form 470 is certified, the FCC requires that applicants go through a waiting period before selecting a service provider and entering into a contract. 
 
“Those 28 days before accepting a bid can feel like a waiting game.” – David Chavez, Director of Technology at Donna Independent School District
 
A smart step to prepare for procurement challenges is to forecast district needs as much as possible, have implementation plans in mind and most importantly, provide feedback to the FCC.
 
#2 On navigating the vendor request for proposal process
Say the words request for proposal (RFP), and an experienced E-rate coordinator will likely have a story or two to share. Some state or local procurement rules and regulations require applicants to supply a vendor RFP alongside the Form 470.
 
“The RFP process is important, but can feel like double work, attention-to-detail and organization is a must.” – Tom Cramer, Chief Technology Officer at Richland School District
 
The RFP process adds an additional layer of complexity to the E-rate application process. It’s important to anticipate a variety of outcomes throughout the process, and have protocols in place for each.
 
“One common example, vendors may say that you stated something differently in the RFP, and there will be a need to amend it - it’s important to plan for every possibility.” – David Chavez, Director of Technology at Donna Independent School District
 
For districts that need to fill out an RFP, consulting an expert source such as a state E-rate coordinator or trusted outside consultant can help simplify the process.
 
“Connecting with your state level coordinator or other mentors and attending USAC training can make a hugely positive difference.” – Mark Mehlich, Technology Director at Beaufort County Schools
 
#3 On the outcomes made possible by E-rate
All of the time and hard work that goes into the E-rate application process isn’t for nothing. The benefits and outcomes made possible by E-rate far exceed the challenges.
 
The popularity of educational software means that students need access to devices, such as Chromebooks.
 
“E-rate funding has made it possible for us to be a 1:1 school.” – Darryl Deurmier, Network Administrator at Andes Central School
“In 2015, we were able to complete a wireless access point project, and all of our schools are 1:1.” – Teresa MacDonald, Telecom Manager at Ysleta Independent School District
 
“We’re 1:1 in grades four through 12, have shared laptop carts in grades two and three and have iPads for PreK through first grade.” – Bernice Riga, E-rate Administrator at Cincinnati Public Schools
 
Without the proper infrastructure, schools and libraries would have a difficult time supporting major district technology initiatives. 
“We’ve been able to put access points throughout our schools, ensuring adequate internet access for all users.” – Missy Johnson, Technology Coordinator at Horry County Schools

“Thanks to the federal E-rate program, we have 10 gig internet access and WiFi in every building, accessible from every classroom.” – Bernice Riga, E-rate Administrator at Cincinnati Public Schools
 
“Of the four districts in our area, we have the highest connection speed.” – Jennifer Howington, Technology Coordinator at Watson Chapel School District
 
Above all, districts are able to provide an equitable digital environment to students with a solid infrastructure and access to devices.
“The ability for students to get online and have access across our district means that they can leverage technology to enhance learning.” – Dennis Frye, Executive Director of Technology at Alamance-Burlington School District 
 
The advice of others can go a long way in the E-rate application process. To fund future technology needs, collaboration and planning among school leaders and submitting feedback to the FCC and USAC are key.
 
Interested in seeing how E-rate can support your district’s evolving needs? Sign up for a free 30-minute consultation today.