Imagine a young woman who has just graduated from high school and wants to attend college to study chemical engineering. She has the skills and work ethic to pursue this course of study and she has earned a four-year scholarship. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? I think we would all be proud of her — and I, for one, would be grateful for a scholarship program that provided such an opportunity.
But what if, midway through her college career, she found out the scholarship fund was oversubscribed and that changes to the program were necessary? Would reducing her financial support help her reach her goals? Would eliminating aid for certain classes really assist her in finishing the course? The answer, simply, is no. Reducing the scope of the scholarship support she receives will not help her achieve her dream.
Making a plan and following it are key steps for any endeavor.
Some time ago, President Obama suggested that U.S. schools should meet 21st century targets for Internet connectivity in his ConnectED initiative, and he also recognized that modernizing the E-rate program would be an important factor in meeting these goals.
The FCC took up the challenge to create a better, more effective E-rate program, addressing some of the long-standing issues hindering what has largely been a successful and impactful education technology funding program.
The essence of the necessity for E-rate modernization is that, nationally, schools and libraries need more funding in order to increase their Internet bandwidth and the capacity of their wireless networks. Making the E-rate program work more efficiently will be a great achievement. However, the plan was to have enough money for students and library patrons nationwide to access to robust Internet connections.
Like our imaginary college student leveraging her scholarship dollars, America’s schools and libraries rely on the E-rate program to deliver Internet capacity. But the E-rate program is oversubscribed and it isn’t able to deliver what is needed. Simply put, the E-rate program is chronically underfunded. Sixteen-plus years have generated plenty of data to support this fact.
This is why, three years ago, Funds For Learning called on the FCC to enact E-rate reform that would increase the amount of funding available, while keeping E-rate discount rates unchanged, allowing schools to set their own funding priorities and to choose for themselves the types of goods and services they needed most. We even joined an E-rate Reform Coalition, representing a diverse mix of small and large, urban and rural schools, who made this same case. As late as last week, we are still calling on the FCC to make a permanent increase to the E-rate fund.
Back to our college student. Reducing her scholarship, whether it is by lowering her overall support, or eliminating support for certain core courses, will not help her. What she needs is the scholarship program to deliver what it promised to deliver.
The FCC should do the same. The FCC needs to follow-through on its plan. The plan is to deliver adequate financial support to allow schools and libraries to get sufficient Internet access up and running on their campuses.
Our students and library patrons need it. Our communities deserve it. Our country should expect it. As President Obama wisely stated, “In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?”
The time for action is now, not next year or two years from now. It is time to increase the E-rate fund.