Tech Leadership

Maximizing Your E-rate Dollars
By EVAN MARWELL/School Administrator, May 2019

EDUCATIONSUPERHIGHWAY has worked to upgrade internet access in every public school classroom since 2012. The progress to date is largely due to bipartisan support of the federal Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as E-rate, which sets aside nearly $4 billion in annual funding for school broadband.

Even with E-rate’s success, schools leave nearly $1 billion on the table each year. We are working with AASA to raise awareness about maximizing schools’ access to E-rate funds.

My recent interview with Michael Redmond, the new superintendent of Minnesota’s Shakopee Public Schools, covered the importance of pursuing E-rate funds.

An AASA member since 2014, Redmond is the former superintendent in Goodhue, Minn.

At your previous school district, why did you decide to upgrade your network and what did you need to consider before applying for E-rate funding?
REDMOND: Educational leaders often use the refrain that one’s zip code shouldn’t determine one’s access to learning opportunities. I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Every school district ought to do its absolute best to support a network that allows each student consistent, high-speed access to an online world filled with more potential learning opportunities than ever before.

When it comes to upgrading technology systems, we wanted universal access for students and the largest learning impact possible within our schools. This involved examining the budget, staffing and current instructional practices.

How did you leverage E-rate funding each year?
We try to make the best use of E-rate funding possible within existing parameters. As superintendent in Shakopee, we recently completed major new construction and remodeling projects. Our challenge now is to develop and implement a replacement and updating cycle that allows us to stagger spending over time. One of the parameters in this plan is how to take advantage of E-rate funds when and where we can to the largest extent possible.

What has 1 Mbps/student speeds made possible?
We use our one-to-one technology for student learning in many ways, including support of our high school’s newly implemented Academies of Shakopee. The academies create smaller learning communities within a large school, coupled with business and community partnerships that extend student learning beyond the walls. Students having access to technology systems and devices allows learning to occur anywhere at any time.

What technology-related decisions have you made in your first year at Shakopee?
The newest tech-related action in Shakopee is the advent of what we call a Connected Learning Day. When school is closed in Shakopee due to weather or another reason, we now conduct an online school day. It simply couldn’t happen without one-to-one technology, a strong technology support system and efforts of staff and teachers.

How have you seen digital learning curricula change in recent years?
I’m seeing an increasing focus on meeting the developmental needs of each student learner and greater emphasis on helping each achieve to her or his fullest potential. I’m seeing greater efforts at assessing for learning, rather than the traditional assessment of learning. Adding digital learning to the mix gives each student access to more in-formation than ever and supports varied strategies to personalize and meet the learning needs of every student.

Any advice for school districts not yet meeting minimum bandwidth requirements?
As a former social studies teacher, I equate the bringing of broadband to all parts of the country with the electrification of rural America. In this day and age, I see access to high-speed internet as more of a minimum requirement if we truly believe a student’s zip code should not determine her or his learning opportunities.

EVAN MARWELL is the founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway in San Francisco, Calif. Twitter: @emarwell