Schools tap E-Rate funding

"E-Rate and the Digital Divide"

In its first two years, three out of four public schools and districts have applied for E-Rate, the federal subsidy that allows schools to build Internet connections.

The poorest schools — representing 25 percent of public school students — received 60 percent of the funds, according to "E-Rate and the Digital Divide," a report prepared by the Urban Institute on behalf of the U.S. Education Department. Poor schools are defined as those in which 50 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

According to the study, 97 percent of the largest public school districts (those having more than 25,000 students) applied for E-Rate discounts; 74 percent of the smallest public school districts (those with less than 3,000 students) applied. Urban districts represent 33 percent of the nation's students and received 49 percent of E-Rate district funds.

At Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, 82 percent to 89 percent of the cost for Internet connection is subsidized by a grant worth about $229 million, said James Alther, an administrator for LAUSD's E-Rate office. The school district will pay for the remaining installation costs as well as electrical upgrades, computers and training.

Duncan Chaplin, one of the report's authors, said that the study is one in a series commissioned by the Education Department to look at the role of technology in education.

The report also found that:

    * 70 percent of rural schools participated in the program in the first year — growing to 75 percent in the second year of the program.

    * 91 percent of private schools that applied for E-Rate discounts were funded, receiving a total of $111 million.

    * The largest share of E-Rate funds — 58 percent — has gone to support the acquisition of equipment and services for internal building connections, with 34 percent used for telecommunications services and 8 percent for the cost of Internet access.

The E-Rate, also known as the education rate, provides discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent on telecommunications services, Internet access and internal connections to public and private schools and libraries.

The program dispenses $2.25 billion per year. An independent nonprofit corporation established by the Federal Communications Commission administers the money.

The effort is part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to provide affordable, universal telecommunications services to schools and libraries, particularly in rural or economically disadvantaged areas.

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