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Did you know E-rate funding is still available for your school district? Here Are Tips from McMinn County School System

Lisa Yeaton Senior Specialist, Social Media Published 9 Feb 2017

The US E-rate program provides up to 90% of the funding to help schools and libraries obtain affordable telecommunications and Wi-Fi Internet access.  The rate of reimbursement is need-based, proportional to the percentage of students in the district eligible for the national school lunch program (NSLP). Last year E-rate funding increased the number of students with an adequate school internet connection by 10.4 million. Approximately 88% of US school districts now have a sufficient internet connection. This is good news, however it also means that 12% of districts, roughly 11.6 million students don’t have the total access they need for digital learning. E-Rate 2017 is said to have $4 billion available in funds because approximately $200 million in funds were not used by schools last year.

According to Funds for Learning, the largest compliance services firm of e-rate, declining participation in the e-rate program is an urgent matter and needs the attention of the FCC and US Federal Government. The excess money not used last year is a result of the declining participation; there were less e-rate applicants in 2016 than there were 4 years ago. Funds for Learning CEO John Harrington believes, “added complexities, painful delays and the loss of support for voice services are driving schools and libraries away from the e-rate program.”

School districts should not be discouraged from applying for e-rate funds. All schools should apply because the program will only be here for a few more few years and the funds are free! E-rate funding offers schools a solution that they would have otherwise not had to improve their network infrastructure and provide their students better and more educational resources. Extreme Networks is committed to helping schools navigate the e-rate process and help facilitate digital learning initiatives. Extreme has helped bring BYOD initiatives, one-to-one computing, online testing, personalized learning, smart schools, and digital citizenship with the implementation of ExtremeWireless, ExtremeSwitching, ExtremeAnalytics, Extreme Management Center, ExtremeControl, ExtremeCloud, and ExtremeSecurity.

McMinn County School System, of Athens, Tennessee, worked with Extreme Networks to get the most out of their 2016 E-Rate Funding. Jill Pierce, CTO of McMinn and a liaison between TETA and ISTE, was excited to plan out an E-rate strategy for the district because she knew the funding would have a boundless impact on the district’s 6,000 students and 450 faculty members. When many think of the E-rate program they assume it just has to do with connectivity, but Jill says, “the bottom line is we need to give our students the best learning outcomes and opportunities that we can and one way to do that is by getting the network where it needs to be to implement more learning resources.” The district’s high schools previously had BYOD programs, but the old network was stretched too thin. The Technology Department was always seen on campus fixing the points-of-failure.

McMinn received an 80% reimbursement rate through E-rate and was able to purchase Extreme’s x460, x440 G2s, and 3935i access points. They also have ExtremeManagement, ExtremeAnalytics, and ExtremeControl to manage, analyze, and control the devices on the network. The solution will be implemented district wide through nine schools and a total of 12 buildings. 

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According to Jill, “Our district benefited tremendously from E-rate. We would not have been able to afford a total network overhaul without E-rate funds. E-rate enabled us to implement an entire new network infrastructure that is allowing us to pursue 1:1 computing and offer our students more resources to enhance their learning.”

Jill’s Tips for E-Rate Success

1)    Make sure your school has a good plan of what it wants to purchase.

2)    Analyze what is and what isn’t working on the current network.

3)    Ask yourself what you could do to improve the current system in lieu of a total overhaul?

4)    Look for current bottlenecks! Where might they exist on a new system? 

5)    Its unlikely E-Rate will pay for an entire network, so have a funding option to pay for additional expenses.

McMinn puts their students first and wants to make sure they have as many resources as possible to get the most out of their education. Jill believes, “E-rate levels the playing field. It brings funds to schools so they can implement resources that would have otherwise been nonexistent.” With McMinn’s new network infrastructure, the BYOD program at the high schools has gone smoothly and the district is working on a 1:1 initiative. One-to-one computing wouldn’t have been an option with the old infrastructure. E-rate gave McMinn the opportunity to modernize its network and provide what is now a solid, seamless, fast, and reliable network. 

Extreme Networks is a proponent of E-rate as a means to educate all students with the best resources that are available through strong networks and telecommunications. The future job market will have more careers that require innovation, creativity, and strong STEM skills. In order to develop these skills students need innovative, creative, and STEM resources. Extreme is proud to provide schools with innovative solutions that meet the needs of students and advance EdTech in the classroom.

Visit our E-Rate Solution Page for more information to help your school district navigate the E-rate process. Or check out these resources:

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