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This is the second blog in a two-part series about the E-Rate Program (the commonly used name for the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, or USF), a US Federal initiative administered by the USAC (Universal Service Administrative Company) for the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), that provides schools and libraries across the United States with affordable access to broadband and telecommunication services and solutions via approved, E-Rate funding mechanisms.
Make sure to read the first blog in our E-Rate series, “Top Mistakes Made in the E-Rate Process and How to Avoid Them”, if you haven't already, so, as applicants and partners, you can avoid some of the common mistakes in pursuing eligible services.
As we begin to reach the end of year 4 in the 5-year E-Rate cycle, the allocated E-Rate budget for your school may be running low. In this blog we’re diving into alternative funding sources that can be used to supplement your E-Rate budget. These funds can be used to cover the costs of services partially covered, or not covered, by E-Rate funding. Alternative funding is more critical than ever as E-Rate funding remains restrictive to five specific categories. These five categories are Telecommunications, Telecommunications Services, Internet Access, Internal Connections (where Wi-Fi access points and switches quality), and Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections. Additionally, E-Rate funding has not evolved to cover the latest classroom evolutions, such as hybrid and remote learning environments. The funding sources featured in this blog can be used by school districts as they plan out their immediate, short-term, and long-term technology roadmaps.
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (to assist E-Rate Funding)
The first fund we will be discussing is the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, also known as ESSER. ESSER is a program that was created by the US federal government as pandemic relief funding to support social and academic needs post-pandemic. ESSER funds can be used to support a variety of activities, including assistance with digital transformation in the classroom or upgrading network infrastructure for the increase of student devices on campus.
For the third round of ESSER funding (ESSER III), states and districts have only used 44.6% of their available funds, meaning there is still approximately $76 billion left to spend. The deadline to spend ESSER III funds is September 2024. For more information about ESSER, visit the Office of Elementary & Secondary Education webpage
Education Innovation Research Program to augment E-Rate Funds
The Education Innovation Research Program, also known as EIR, was established as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). EIR is a competitive grant program created to foster innovation and fund the development, implementation, and scaling of evidence-based solutions to improve student achievement. Although this type of traditional grant takes more time and resources compared to both E-Rate and ESSER, the return of investment is much more substantial.
There are three types of EIR grants: early-phase, mid-phase, and expansion. The early phase grants provide funding to support the development and testing of a program to determine if the program can effectively improve student achievement. The average award size for the early phase grant is up to $4 million. The program typically occurs in late spring/early summer, so be on the lookout for the application in 2024!
Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program
One funding source to add to your watchlist during future E-Rate seasons is the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program, which was announced by the Department of Commerce as part of the Digital Equity Act under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The program provides funding to promote digital equity and broadband for underserved populations. $250 million will be available each year for five years, totaling $1.25 billion toward digital equity. Although the deadlines for this program have yet to be announced, this is a great grant to be aware of! For more information on the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program, you can check out their website.
What Should You Take Away from This?
The E-Rate program is critical to providing affordable broadband and telecommunications services and solutions to school districts, but sometimes additional funds are needed. The programs mentioned in this blog are an excellent place to start when looking for grants to supplement your E-Rate budget. As with any funds, you do have to go through an application process, it may require competitive bidding, and there are eligibility criteria for you to qualify. To find more information regarding public funding, visit our Public Funding Support page. On this page you can find information regarding funds, guides on how to use public funding, informative webinars, and more. Additionally, you can visit our E-Rate for digital learning page or contact our E-Rate helpdesk for assistance navigating the E-Rate process.
What Other Resources for Applicants of E-Rate (USAC) Funding Are Available?
The below links contain additional, useful information that can help you get started or continue on your E-Rate journey. Whether you are trying to find products that fall within certain categories of service or see the full range of eligible products across CommScope, these references can provide additional information and assistance:
- Everything RUCKUS for K-12 (primary education). Explore the RUCKUS capabilities and solutions for primary education, including digital equity solutions and E-Rate.
- Six steps for a successful E-Rate season. This infographic helps keep you on track, whether you represent public libraries, schools, or other program owners seeking to utilize E-Rate funds.
- Education Network Solutions Product Guide. Discover education solutions that are E-Rate fundable.