The 2021 E-Rate Changes That Could Cause You to Miss Out on Funding

E-rate funding is changing with the start of the 2021 funding cycle. Is your school district still prepared to secure vital funds in the face of these changes?

The education landscape is constantly evolving, and 2020 has seen the importance of technology and internet access dramatically increase. Unfortunately, the cost of maintaining that access can often be overwhelming for K-12 school districts. That’s why the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supports technological advancements in schools and libraries with E-rate funding — a government-funded discount program that helps institutions attain affordable internet access and telecommunications services.

Unfortunately, as the reliance on the internet grows, so does the complexity of receiving the funding many schools need. Understanding how E-rate works — and how the changes coming in the 2021 funding cycle affect you — is critical to ensuring you can maximize your funding.


What Is E-Rate Funding?

“E-rate” is the more commonly used term for the Universal Service Schools and Libraries Program, a federal program designed to help public schools and libraries enable digital learning. Through the program, K-12 schools and libraries can gain access to discounts and funding for high-speed broadband, Wi-Fi, and other communications technologies and services.

There are two different types of E-rate funding groups: Category One and Category Two. Category One funding services are reserved for institutions that need basic access to the internet. This includes funding for broadband circuits like fiber wire construction. Category Two, on the other hand, is used to fund the network infrastructure within a building. This funding is reserved for purchasing both onsite and cloud-based solutions that support better connectivity for a network, including new routers, wireless access points, switches, firewalls, and internal copper/fiber cabling.


Why Is E-Rate Funding Important?

E-rate funding is important for a number of reasons. At the most basic level, districts should take advantage of the program because district constituents help pay for the funding via taxes on their phone bills. To not receive the full amount of funding your district is qualified for would be a waste. More importantly, E-rate funding offers a great opportunity for schools to improve the quality of education they can offer their students by improving their digital connectivity.

Surveys of schools that apply for the E-rate funding program highlight just how valuable the funding can be. 94% of surveyed applicants report that E-rate support is “mission-critical.” As digital learning continues to grow in popularity, bandwidth needs will grow in tandem — meaning schools and libraries will depend on E-rate funding more than ever.


Changes to the 2021 E-Rate Funding Round

This year sees one of the FCC’s frequent updates to E-rate funding policies. Even if your district is familiar with E-rate, understanding the FCC’s changes will be crucial to securing future funding. To help you understand some of the most important updates, we’ve summarized several key changes below:

  • Applicant budgets will reset with the 2021 funding year. From now on, E-rate funding will operate on fixed five-year budget cycles (2021-2025, 2026-2030, and so on). All budgets will reset at the start of each five-year cycle and leftover funding will not roll over, meaning it’s a “use it or lose it” situation.
  • The way that enrollment numbers are calculated will change. Only full-time students will be counted from now on, and there will be no more estimating enrollment for new building constructions (unless you are a new school that hasn’t opened yet).
  • The per-student budget amount will now be $167. That amount will only change at the start of each new five-year cycle, meaning that it will not be adjusted with inflation. The total budgets for each cycle will be determined by a student count and by library square-footage (with a pre-discount multiplier of $4.50 per square foot). These calculations will be applied the same way, no matter the geographic location of the library. However, if your student count or library square-footage increases during a cycle, these numbers can be updated.
  • Minimum budgets are increasing. The minimum Category Two budget for each school and library will increase from $9,200 to $25,000.
  • Budgets will cease to be determined on a per-school basis. Instead, budgets will be allocated district-wide or library-system-wide. District-wide budgets will be based on the aggregate total students within the district. Alternatively, districts with ten locations or fewer can opt to calculate each site’s individual budget and add them together for the total district-wide budget.


Maximize E-Rate Funding with TTI

As more education initiatives begin to rely on digital connectivity, E-rate funding is critical for schools hoping to empower their students and help them succeed. However, there’s no denying that securing E-rate funding is an arduous process. With the incoming changes to the 2021 funding cycle, it can be difficult even for experienced districts to know where to start.

To ensure your district is set up for success in this next five-year cycle, it can be incredibly valuable to align with a trusted partner that can help you navigate the complex and ever-changing system. That’s exactly what you get when you work with Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI). With three decades of IT experience and a long list of education partnerships, our experts can help your district maximize E-rate funding — and put it to good use.

If you’re interested in learning more about how TTI can help you secure and leverage E-rate funds to power cutting-edge education in your district, contact us today.

By Tony Ridzyowski


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