School Leaders and E-rate

By Nicholas Shipley

Last April, the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) released the E-rate demand estimate for funding year 2012. For the second time since it was established, the demand for funding exceeded $5 billion. This staggering figure was nearly double the available funding and demonstrated how the program’s success is threatening its sustainability.

E-rate -- the term used for the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund -- started as an effort to provide discounts for schools and libraries across the nation to acquire affordable telecommunication service and Internet access. The first year of the program -- 1997 -- saw $2.3 billion in requests, of which $1.69 billion was committed. Over the course of the next 15 years, demand for program funds has steadily increased, while available funding has remained relatively unchanged.

Noting the increasing demand for E-rate funding, my company, Funds For Learning, conducted a nationwide survey of E-rate applicants in the spring of 2012. The survey gathered information on how applicants use the E-rate funds and measured concern for the lack of adequate program funding. We had responses from 636 applicants, with 434 applicants (representing 3.88 million students) providing information about their entity for statistical purposes.

The respondents were a significant representation of E-rate participants, embodying a range of school sizes, locations, and E-rate discount levels. The distribution of respondents closely mirrored the distribution of E-rate applicants.

The survey focused on five major areas: program dependence, flexibility of program aspects, current and future technology use, prioritizing program services, and potential program changes.

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