First Step Toward E-Rate Reform, Not Necessarily ConnectED

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a first step toward modernizing the E-Rate program, voting that it would begin the reform process. While this is an important first step toward modernization, it remains to be seen what direction the FCC will take as it moves forward with reform.

Last week on Ed Money Watch, I posted a brief review of the latest E-Rate reform proposal put forth by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, which varies significantly from the ConnectED initiative introduced by President Obama. As he emphasized during his remarks, “Faced with the choice between a one-dimensional national benchmark or local autonomy that benefits local students, I favor the latter.”

Today, on New America’s In the Tank blog, Danielle Kehl from New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) and I further analyze Commissioner Pai’s proposal, with an in-depth exploration of his proposal to move to per-pupil funding:

In the education world, per-pupil funding is a common way to administer dollars for variable costs in schools – costs that are associated directly with each student. For desks and textbooks, this is a fairly easy calculation: if you have 1,000 students, you’ll need 1,000 books and 1,000 desks. But there are many potential pitfalls in using per-pupil funding for step costs, which are costs that increase or decrease once a certain threshold has been reached. Indeed, as Chicago Public Schools move this year to per-student funding, there is some concern that the new budget structure will exacerbate school inequality by further reducing budgets of schools with shrinking enrollment.

We also expand further on the issues surrounding service:

Commissioner Pai limited his discussion of next-generation technologies to the problems with differentiating between Priority 1 (which fund Internet and telecommunications services) and Priority 2 (which give money for internal connections and maintenance) funding requests since E-Rate received applications asking for twice as much money as was actually available last year. His concerns about whether schools should be spending their dollars on telephone services instead of classroom connections are valid. But nearly 80 percent of E-Rate schools report that they don’t have the capacity to meet current demand, and many schools still rely on speeds that are similar to the average home user’s. He barely mentioned fiber optic infrastructure, which is the only technology that’s truly future proof and capable of delivering speeds that meet not only today’s needs but also tomorrow’s.

Moving forward with the process, we hope that the various stakeholders can recognize the commonalities in these proposals and work together to modernize the E-Rate program.

For the full analysis, check out the complete post on In the Tank.

 

Author:

Lindsey Tepe is a senior policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. She is a member of the Learning Technologies project and PreK-12 team, where she focuses primarily on innovation and new technologies in public schools.