E-Rate funding has been a boon for many K-12 educational institutions, providing badly needed resources for technology initiatives. Now is the time for primary education IT and administrative leaders to think about how to use E-Rate funding to provide more advanced, high-performance networks for a range of important new use cases.
In many ways, the challenges of providing enough tools and resources for K-12 school systems aren’t very different from what they were a generation or two ago. School districts are facing increased educational and operational needs, yet funding sources such as property taxes and government aid remain under pressure, especially in districts with less wealth than others. Class sizes continue to increase, regulatory and compliance mandates are proliferating, and the amount of information students must consume and master is exploding.
There’s a flip side to those challenges, however: School systems are benefiting from the increased availability of cutting-edge technologies to accelerate new learning initiatives in the classroom while enhancing productivity and efficiency among teachers, staff and administrators. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has made billions of dollars available to schools through its E-Rate technology funding program, which has become more popular and important than ever as school systems up their reliance on technology to drive student achievement.
The low-hanging fruit of earlier E-Rate funding—widespread PC deployment, nearly universal Internet access and computer instruction laboratories—is now being augmented by a wide range of exciting and potentially breakthrough use cases. Those use cases, and many more to follow in the near future, rely heavily on access to affordable, modernized, high-speed networks. While legacy networks continue to act as workhorses for fundamental applications and workloads in K-12 environments, entirely new levels of performance, scalability, manageability and security are now needed to turbocharge future innovations.
This paper looks at some of the exciting use cases coming to the forefront for K-12 educational and administrative requirements, the vital role high- performance networks play in driving those applications and what to look for in identifying high-performance networking solutions and a technology partner for your next E-Rate funding proposal.
School systems have largely embraced the notion that information technology can provide dramatic enhancements in how students are taught and how school systems themselves are managed. However, K-12 organizations are looking to step up their use of technology to deliver even higher levels of functionality and productivity in the classroom and throughout their administrative operations. In fact, the ability to offer technology to drive important new use cases is helping K-12 systems make themselves more attractive to new families entering their districts and helping to retain existing families in their communities.
Many new applications are using modernized―most often network- driven―technology to enhance student achievement, demonstrate compliance, ensure physical and cybersecurity, and improve teacher and school district workforce productivity. Those applications include:
There is little debate that high-performance networking is needed to handle the bandwidth, security, intelligence and manageability to support these and other high-value use cases. While legacy networks have served many school systems well over the years, it is clear that a new class of networking infrastructure and solutions is essential to meet the needs of students, teachers and staff.
Below is a great illustration of the relationships among networking technology, applications and stakeholder groups and why networking can be an important catalyst in delivering higher levels of achievement and productivity.
For IT professionals working in K-12 settings, there’s good news: Your commitment and hard work in getting your school system to adopt broadband technology for pervasive connectivity has paid off: Research indicates that nearly all U.S. public school districts are connected to high- speed broadband—and that the remaining districts are in the process of doing so.1
However, it is also clear that much work remains to be done. That’s because the important new K-12 use cases discussed in this paper need even higher levels of functionality, performance, security, intelligence and scalability. High-speed networks must bring even more features to the table to support the performance, security, economic and usability requirements for use cases that may become part of your next E-Rate proposal. Among these are:
But technology itself is not all you need. K-12 school systems also have to pick and collaborate with a seasoned technology provider that not only has state-of-the-art networking solutions but also experience with the E-Rate process. Be sure to look for a partner that has worked with the E-Rate program in the past, and offers E-Rate eligible services, and can deliver networking technology and services built onto a physically diverse and distributed network.
With high-performance networking playing such a central role in the delivery of invaluable services for K-12 school systems, it makes sense to select a technology partner with both a wide range of market-proven networking solutions and a successful track record in numerous system deployments.
Comcast Business also offers additional technology solutions—voice, video and cybersecurity, for instance—that are not currently eligible for E-Rate funding but can be purchased outside of the E-Rate process. To learn more visit: https://business.comcast.com/enterprise/industry-solutions/education
 “98 Percent of U.S. Public School Districts Connected to High-Speed Broadband, but 2.3 Million Students Still Left Behind,” EducationSuperHighway, 2018
Final determination of any eligible services rests with USAC. Eligible and ineligible components of the service should be cost allocated in accordance to program rules.
Applicants that wish to purchase a commercially available Business Internet package that costs less than $300 per month (pre-discount) will be permitted to do so without complying with the Form 470 competitive bidding requirement. The exemption will only apply if the package offers speeds of at least 100Mbps downstream and 10Mbps upstream per building and the charges cannot be averaged across multiple buildings. The annual pre-discount $3,600 maximum includes any one-time installation and equipment charges.
For details on the E-rate program, visit the USAC website at www.usac.org/sl or call the Schools & Libraries help desk at 888.203.8100.
The E-Rate program is helping K-12 schools bolster their networks and support digital learning.
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