E-rate Funding: How Schools Can Upgrade Their Connectivity

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For school-aged children, a classroom rich in digital experiences is a must to ensure that today’s students are ready for tomorrow’s high-tech world. According to a 2017 report from EducationSuperHighway, 88 percent of classrooms had Wi-Fi access, up from just 25 percent in 2013. Devices including smartboards and Chromebooks along with video streaming, e-learning programs and learning management systems demonstrate the myriad of ways technology is being used in classrooms today.

Cat 6A Standard for New School Construction

While access is one matter, the quality of connectivity is another, and it’s a key consideration in order to fully support students’ digital learning needs. In 2014, ANSI/TIA-4966 was introduced defining telecommunications infrastructure for educational facilities in order to meet the growing connectivity needs of classrooms. With a focus on new school construction, the standard calls for backbone cabling to be Cat 6A or higher in all new school buildings, with a view toward future-proofing the classrooms.

This was a great step for equipping new schools for the digital age, and the expense to be allocated in construction budgets. But what about the tens of thousands of existing schools with older technology infrastructures where the vast majority of American school children attend, and where budgets are already tight?

Why Upgrades for Existing Schools are Difficult to Justify

In many areas, tax bases are decreasing because of the shrinking retail sector and assessed home values that have not fully recovered since the 2008 recession. This means school district budgets are getting squeezed, so schools are forced to do more with less, which can negatively affect performance. This, in turn, threatens a school’s accredited status that can further decrease area home values and erode the tax base.

In this kind of economic climate, it may be difficult for a school district to justify the expense of overhauling its schools’ infrastructure to modernize its network. But the need for better connectivity won’t go away – it will only continue to rise.

E-rate Funding Can Pay the Way to Digital Classrooms

So how can existing schools upgrade their connectivity to provide more productive digital learning environments? The answer is through the E-rate program – the government's largest educational technology program designed to help struggling schools meet the technological needs of schools today.

Through the E-rate program, school districts and libraries lacking financial resources or a strong tax base can receive discounts on telecommunications services, internal connections, managed internal broadband services, basic maintenance of internal connections, and more. An eligible school or library can save 20-90 percent on the cost of technology products to expand networks and information services in school buildings, with higher discounts for schools and libraries in rural and high poverty areas.

The program is a way for Cat 6A cabling to get into more schools at a significantly reduced cost, and afford more students the opportunity to learn and keep pace in today’s digital age.

Our Future Depends on It

District administrators are wise to take a long-term view of how connectivity upgrades and modernization to Cat 6A cabling will benefit their students, schools, and community as a whole, and how leveraging the E-rate Program can make it happen.

With a higher quality telecommunications infrastructure, schools can improve opportunities for learning and increase school performance. Better schools mean a rise in home values and tax dollars available to the district. It’s a cycle with positive outcomes for everyone, namely students.

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