I like pie. As I have gone through life, I haven’t met very many people who don’t like pie in one form or another. There may have been debates on what kind is best, but overall, a pie tends to be a good thing. At my house around the holiday season, there is discussion on how best to cut and serve pie. With two children, I probably don’t need to expand much more on how important it is that pie slices be of equal size. So this begs the question of why do my children get so passionate about dessert? Simple-there is only so much pie and when it is gone, well….it’s gone.
How does pie relate to the E-rate program? My holiday pie can only feed so many people before it is gone. In comparison, the E-rate program only has a set amount of money to disburse each funding year before it is gone. How best to divide and distribute the fund among the deserving number of students and library patrons across the nation is critical to any ideas or discussions on E-rate reform. Just like I haven’t met many people opposed to pie, I haven’t met many people that disagree with the idea that the E-rate program should ensure that there is an equitable distribution of funding for all schools and libraries so that all students have access to necessary telecommunications and internet access services. So is the current system working? In my opinion, no.
Currently, the system used to divide and distribute E-rate funding is not equitable and is on track to actually eliminate schools and libraries from receiving any funding. This problem is being driven in large measure by a handful of applicants (about 10%-15%) who are requesting more than a majority of the funds. Let me illustrate. The table below shows FY2013 funding requests for Internet and telecommunications for two different kinds of applicants. One set of numbers represents the entire state of Nebraska while the other is a single school district in the state of California. Before you assume I picked unfairly, if you look at a list of states in order of the amount of money requested, Nebraska is the first state that requested more than this California school district with 14,996 students. There are 16 states or US territories that requested less than this in FY2013 for telecommunications and Internet Access services as a whole. Every school, school district, library and library system in these states taken as a whole, did not ask for as much money as this one district. (By the way, this is just one example. There are others, too.)
I do not know the exact circumstances of the district in California — and I would prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt that they can put all of that telecomm and Internet funding to good use. But at a fundamental level, I have a concern about the equity of the situation. On average, nationwide, the E-rate program has about $43 to spend per student.
This is where some people argue that my pie analogy would start to break down. My kids tell me that their holiday pie is equitably divided when the slices are of equal size. When it comes to the E-rate program, should applicants have to divide the funding pie equally? All students are equally deserving of telephone and Internet access services, but I have been involved in the E-rate program long enough to know that not all applicants sit in like circumstances. The Funds For Learning E-rate 2.0 Proposal acknowledges these differences. Under the Proposal, the schools that qualify for the highest discount rates will receive the highest discount amounts. There will be safeguards to protect small and rural schools. Most importantly, the Proposal protects all applicants (like the state of Nebraska!) from losing out on E-rate discounts because of one overly zealous applicant.
Every school and library should have a piece of the E-rate pie. The budget system advocated in the Funds For Learning Proposal returns the E-rate to its original mission: connecting students. It eliminates the current FCC Priority system and establishes a common sense limit on the total discounts that a single applicant can receive.
For more information on how you can take action, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Funds For Learning (www.fundsforlearning.com) is a consulting firm specializing in the E-rate program.