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Using E-rate Reimbursements Safely

I recently read an article how a particular school district in Texas is trying to find the budgetary resources to hire a school safety officer. The district’s solution might surprise you. 
There is a federal program called “E-rate” that provides billions of dollars annually to school districts to get them connected to high-speed Internet access. This is a Federal Communications Commission-run program, and districts receive discounts on their broadband Internet bills based on the number of students who are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).  
Without getting into all the minutia of the E-rate rules, there are two ways school districts can benefit from their participation. They can request their Internet service provider apply an E-rate discount on their bills; or the school district can pay the full amount for the service and then receive reimbursement from the E-rate program. While E-rate discounts can only be used for eligible purposes, such as defraying broadband costs, the reimbursement that schools receive – if they choose the second payment option – can be used as the district sees fit. Many districts use the reimbursement for other technology spending, and other districts put the E-rate reimbursement back in the school’s general operating budget.  
The Texas school district highlighted in the article is considering using the E-rate reimbursement, which is approximately $60,000 annually, to pay for the school safety officer.  
At Funds For Learning, we help school districts apply for E-rate funds and stay in compliance with all the E-rate rules and regulations. For many years, we have encouraged schools to use their E-rate reimbursements towards technology-related investments, and we continue to support this as a best practice; however, the FCC places no specific restrictions on how E-rate reimbursements can be used. It is within the purview of a school to use its E-rate reimbursements towards school safety-related expenditures. A few notes about this:
  • Discounts can only be received for Internet access and Wi-Fi related goods and services.
  • When receiving reimbursements, it is important to demonstrate the eligibility of the discounted goods and services, to document that payment was made in full, and to properly account for receipt of the reimbursements.
The FCC could also help the cause of school safety be reinstating E-rate support for classroom telecommunications and cell phone services.
On a personal note, I was moved last week by something I saw at my child’s high school in Montgomery County, MD. There were hundreds of t-shirts hanging from a fence at the high school, symbolizing the nearly 200 teen victims of gun violence in 2018. These t-shirts are making their way to different high schools across Montgomery County, and the organizers of this initiative are Montgomery County Students For Gun Control.  
We, and I mean as a nation, have been debating how to keep our children safe at schools for many years. It is an extremely complex issue, and districts are making local decisions every day about how to accomplish this critical goal. No student should walk into a school building worrying if they are truly safe, while at the same time trying to digest what is being taught to them. Districts are grappling with how to use their limited resources to protect students while they are in their care during the school day. As a parent of three children at Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, I receive regular correspondence from district officials regarding how they are handling various student safety issues.  
Seeing the t-shirts at my son’s high school last week was is a haunting reminder, and I hope Montgomery County School District and districts across the country continue to have this dialog with their respective communities. 
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Our mission is to provide high-quality consulting and support services for the needs of E-rate program participants. We consult with applicants to help them understand, effectively utilize, and maintain compliance with E-rate rules and regulations. We help prepare and submit paperwork, and interact with program administrators on our clients’ behalf.

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