By: Steve Meany, CEO
Technology changes every day. Keeping school network infrastructure up-to-date with the latest tools and services can prove challenging for even the most affluent districts.
For many rural communities, working with archaic systems has been accepted as the status quo. These districts simply don’t have the capital to invest in new technology, and as a result, their schools and students are left behind.
As new technology continues to be intertwined as a foundational part of student development, rural school districts feel forced to accept the long-term negative impact of outdated networks on student achievement.
The USAC’s E-Rate program helps these rural communities address immediate challenges by providing grants that can cover up to 90% of the cost of network upgrades. Winning this type of funding, however, is not easy and requires schools to successfully navigate a stringent process.
Here are two key factors winning E-Rate funding:
1. Be Prepared
Many rural school districts are struggling to catch up to today’s technology, much less think about their needs 5 to 10 years down the road. We understand and are very familiar with schools in this position. That said, it is important to note that the E-Rate process rewards forward thinking.
Instead of applying with the mindset of just meeting today’s needs, think about what kind of network your district will need 10 years from now. Then create a written plan broken down into phases by priority.
This written plan will have two benefits: 1) It will give your internal IT staff a vision for the future, keeping everyone on the same page, and 2) it will streamline your E-Rate application process and change your mindset to view each year as another chance to take one step toward your 10-year goal.
2. Be Proactive
Winning E-Rate funding requires respect for and commitment to the process. Practically speaking, this means being proactive. Trust us, the early bird will win the worm.
Like technology, E-Rate changes every year in order to match industry needs. Staying on top of these changes is fundamental to successful applications. It’s also important to align your written long-term plan with these changes if you’ll be relying on E-Rate funds for implementation.
Also, E-Rate operates on a strict application timeline. Completing the multitude of forms and meeting each deadline will test even the best project manager. Before starting the application process, make note of every important date and deadline, mark them on your calendar, and implement a method of accountability.
Bottom line: The earlier you complete and submit your application, the better.
If your school district is considering applying for funding this year, here’s the bad news: you’re already falling behind. The good news? It’s not too late if you start the process today.
While the E-rate application process can be stringent, it’s not impossible. This may seem basic, but being prepared with a long-term network plan and being proactive in meeting application deadlines will greatly increase your district’s odds of winning funding.
The timeline for submitting a 2017 E-Rate application is quickly passing. If your school district is interested in starting the process this year, partnering with a trusted IT firm with E-Rate experience could prove to be the difference maker.
At ITS, we have years of experience helping rural school districts create long-term network plans and navigate the complicated E-Rate process.
Contact us today to claim your free E-Rate evaluation or to learn more about how we can help your school district prepare for the E-rate process.