Shifting Federal Priorities Mean More Funding for Ed Tech

Spurred on by the President’s ConnectED initiative, the FCC is moving to prioritize WiFi over outdated technology, and there’s still time for districts to speak up about what they need.

“Technology has changed; the needs of schools have changed; the E-rate program must reflect this change.” So said Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in a talk to a group assembled by the Council of Chief State School Officers in mid-March. His talk was but the latest in a flurry of activity around the E-rate in particular and the federal role in educational technology in general.

The positive flurry began in June 2013. In a speech at Mooresville Middle School (NC), President Obama announced his ConnectED initiative and directed the FCC “to begin a process that will connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed broadband Internet within five years.”

In February 2014, the President announced more than $750 million in private-sector commitments to deliver “cutting-edge technologies to classrooms, including devices, free software, teacher professional development and home wireless connectivity.” Seven companies answered the President’s call for donations and others followed in subsequent days. Thus far, no details are yet available about how those goods and services might be distributed, but the commitment from those companies remains. Obama also announced that the FCC had found an additional $2 billion in the E-rate program over the next two years. Finally, the President released his budget in March, including a new $200 million request for an educational technology program, ConnectEDucators, which “would provide funding to help educators leverage technology and data to provide high-quality college- and career-ready instruction that meets the needs of all students.”

The Three S’s of E-Rate
Commissioner Rosenworcel noted that E-rate reform should provide three S’s: speed, simplify and spending smart. Reflecting the Public Notice, she cited speed targets for high-speed broadband that SETDA established in our paper “The Broadband Imperative”: 100 Mbps per 1,000 students in the near term and 1 Gbps per 1,000 students by the end of the decade. (SETDA recommended the 1 Gbps by 2017.)

Getting WiFi to the Desktop
Chairman Wheeler’s speech struck similar notes, but in some cases with more detail, and especially more emphasis on phasing out legacy systems. Like Commissioner Rosenworcel, Wheeler bemoaned how funds currently were being spent. While he mentioned the $600 million outlay on outdated services, he went farther. In this past funding year, less than half of the $2.4 billion was spent on providing 100 Mbps capacity and none on WiFi. In addition to pagers, he listed legacy PBX systems, $175 million spent on mobile phones and $260 million on services like e-mail, texting and Web hosting. While he has no doubt that these are important to some schools and libraries, “are they more important than paying for high-speed connectivity to the facility and WiFi access throughout?”

So what can you do? The comment period for the Public Notice ended April 7 and the Reply Comments were due no later than April 21, but staffers at the FCC as well as Commissioner Rosenworcel have said that they encourage comments and suggestions even after that. They need to hear what technology you have and what you need to support learning in a digital age. And they need to hear why you need those things. For example, it is helpful to say you need six times the capacity that you currently have because you are switching to all digital content for learning, much of it is video, and students are creating video of their own that they are sharing with a partner school in India.

These are the two key points: Share your need, and get ready for some changes to the E-rate program.

Read the entire article by Geoffrey H. Fletcher in THE Journal at http://thejournal.com/Articles/2014/05/22/Shifting-Federal-Priorities-Mean-More-Funding-for-Ed-Tech.aspx

The Broadband Imperative

The Broadband Imperative provides an up-to-date assessment of access to broadband by students and teachers (in and out of schools); current trends driving the need for more broadband in teaching, learning and school operations; and specific recommendations for the broadband capacity needed to ensure all students have access to the tools and resources they need to be college and career ready by 2014-15 and beyond.

Access the document at resources at http://www.setda.org/priorities/equity-of-access/the-broadband-imperative/

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