I attended the SLD applicant training session in Atlanta on October 18th and saw many familiar faces. The SLD trainings are worthwhile events, and I have no doubt that applicants who attended one of the eight training sessions this fall received a benefit. The training helps attendees follow program rules, which means that they can utilize E-rate funding more effectively, prepare their paperwork with fewer mistakes, and generally get through the process faster with better results. This is not only a benefit for the applicant – it benefits the entire program and everyone that is involved. Thank you to the SLD for conducting these events. Spending a month on the road taking the latest news to applicants can’t be easy, but it is greatly appreciated and an excellent use of program resources.
In fact, I think the training is so good that it should be expanded. There are over 20,000 applicants that participate in the E-rate program, but only a small fraction are able to travel to hear the important information that the SLD shares during the training events. Adding a few more cities to the SLD’s fall tour is a possibility, but the reality is that there is only a limited amount of time that senior SLD staff can be on the road away from their offices. Therefore, rather than trying to reach more applicants by adding more cities, I have a suggestion: given the prevalence of online conferencing platforms, the SLD should consider broadcasting at least one of their fall trainings online. This would allow applicants to view the presentations live, and receive the benefit of hearing the information first-hand. This would make it easier for more applicants to participate in training, while saving precious SLD resources. Applicants who are properly trained help reduce PIA expenses, appeals, avoidable delays, and so on. Ultimately, by reducing SLD administrative costs, this frees up more money for distribution to applicants. Everyone wins when more applicants receive training.
The SLD has made enormous strides in their outreach efforts, and their training program helps everyone who attends. Therefore, I think that the next step to improve the training is to increase the quantity of applicants who can directly benefit. Expanding the fall training sessions to include an online component is an excellent way to achieve that goal.