The federal E-rate program allows schools to invest in technology; they may otherwise not be able to afford.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts across the U.S. face significant budget shortfalls. Without the normal level of per-pupil funding at their disposal, some schools must choose between prioritizing core instructional needs and investing in technology that could add significant value to their broader programming.
Fortunately, the federal E-rate program can give schools the flexibility to invest in technology they may otherwise forego. By working with an effective E-rate consultant, schools can craft a bid that not only satisfies their long-term instructional goals but also preserves their operating budgets for other expenses.
When it comes time to select an E-rate service provider, schools face a critical task. Without the right partner, even the most carefully crafted bid can yield subpar results, with schools forced to shoulder any unexpected costs. Fortunately, by carefully evaluating prospective service providers’ track records, leaders can select a technology services firm with the know-how to accomplish even the most complex of educational technology projects.
At CTS, we’ve worked with schools across the United States to make the most of their E-rate funds.
Over the past nine years, our team has received more than $13.5 million, comprising nearly 600 individual E-rate awards. In each case, our team works directly with school leadership to identify their unique instructional or non-instructional needs and execute a bid that fulfills the school’s short- and long-term vision, all while remaining fiscally responsible.
When selecting a provider, evaluate how they’ve managed E-rate funding in the past.
When a school begins to evaluate its E-rate funding bids, investigating a provider’s track record is key. Has the provider worked with schools in similar technology markets or geographic areas in the past? What about enrollment? Does the provider normally work with new or more established schools? Depending on the answers, schools may find a provider lacks the capacity to execute especially complex projects.
Perhaps most importantly, to what extent has the provider made the most of each partner school’s funds? Has the provider been over- or under-budget in most cases? If the provider is generally under-budget, is the school receiving all of the services for which it bid? Such considerations directly impact a school’s bottom line and make the difference between a value-add partnership and one that ultimately ends up being an administrative or fiscal burden.
Experienced providers can successfully navigate common E-rate funding pitfalls.
Effective E-rate funding partners also have the depth of expertise needed to guide leaders toward technology purchasing decisions that make sense for their school. For example, suppose an experienced provider recommends a product different from the one initially proposed in a school’s bid. When the school leader asks the provider why a specific item was substituted from what was first proposed, she learns that the item the school first included is likely to become obsolete in the next three years and will eventually require costly upgrades.
In such a scenario, the provider has effectively leveraged their expertise to save the school money both in the short- and long-term. Because of their global view of the educational technology landscape, providers with a history of successfully navigating the E-rate program can yield benefits for the school that surpass an individual year’s needs.
Work with a provider who tailors E-rate funding to your school’s unique goals.
Most importantly, schools should work with providers who further their unique instructional vision and more general programmatic goals. No one school is the same. As a result, an effective service provider considers the unique instructional model and the fiscal and administrative constraints of its partners.
If a school has a 1:1 Chromebook ratio or makes heavy use of online instructional platforms, the provider should keep such programming elements in mind when responding to the school’s E-rate funding bid. The more a provider can address the school’s unique needs and take the time to understand, in-depth, why the school is seeking a particular service, the more effective the provider is likely to be when it comes time to execute.
As schools face more uncertainty than ever before, selecting an effective service provider shouldn’t be an additional administrative roadblock. By asking the right questions of their prospective partners, schools can ensure they make the most of their annual E-rate funding.