Washington, D.C. – Common Sense Kids Action and the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) announced today their collaboration to help finish the job of connecting every school and library in America to high-speed Internet by helping states and school districts access billions of dollars in the newly modernized federal E-rate program.
In 2014, the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) modernized the E-Rate program, a nearly 20-year old program that subsidizes communications projects for schools and libraries with small fees from telephone bills. The reforms resulted in $9 billion being available for high-speed fiber and Wifi projects at schools and libraries across the country over the next five years. While nearly all schools and libraries are connected to the Internet, more than 60 percent of schools do not have adequate capacity or speed to perform most functions required in today’s highly digitized learning and administrative environments.
Not all lawmakers and state and district education leaders are aware of or clear about the recent E-Rate changes and have not yet taken advantage of the available funding. Common Sense and SETDA unveiled today their new user-friendly online E-Rate toolkit that explains the changes, available funding, and best ways to apply for it.
Common Sense Kids Action, the advocacy arm of Common Sense Media, and SETDA will work together this year and in 2016 and 2017 to encourage digital leaders to file applications for E-Rate funding, and Common Sense will advocate for states to set aside or appropriate funds that qualify for the new state matching grant created in the modernized E-Rate program that can make local high-speed Internet projects even more affordable.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive, and in today’s digital world, that means making sure all kids have equal access to advanced technology for learning, no matter the school’s or library’s zip code,” said James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder of Common Sense. “I think most of us would agree that something is wrong when coffee shops have faster Internet connections than most of our schools. With the use of advanced technology for learning and for administration, we must do everything we can now to finish the job of connecting every classroom and library.”
The toolkit is being publicly unveiled just days before the annual SETDA conference in Washington, D.C., where technology and education leaders from around the country will gather to discuss educational technology policies and best practices. Mr. Steyer, who was one of the leading advocates in 2013 and 2014 for the E-Rate modernization, will be the keynote speaker on Monday morning, October 26th, where he will urge attendees to make investments in broadband for learning and take advantage of E-rate funds to increase opportunities for all kids.
“SETDA is pleased to partner with Jim Steyer and Common Sense Kids Action to develop resources in support of the modernized E-rate program,” said Lan Neugent, Interim Executive Director SETDA. “These documents will help guide educators and policy makers as they work to put in place high-speed bandwidth for classrooms and libraries. It is essential that every child in our country be able seamlessly access digital resources. With this excellent guidance as a basis for action, meeting the broadband capacity targets recommended in SETDA’s Broadband Imperative, and adopted by the FCC for its E-rate modernization order, by 2018 is very achievable.”
Matt Holder, chief operations officer for the Oklahoma State Department of Education welcomed the new toolkit. “The E-rate Modernization resources produced by SETDA and Common Sense Kids Action will be critical for Oklahoma as we work to expand students’ access to broadband across the state. The toolkit simplifies the complex E-rate program and makes it easy to communicate with policymakers and state leaders about the importance of E-rate funds for broadband connectivity. We recommend the toolkit for all states hoping to take advantage of the E-rate program.”
The E-Rate reforms are part of the Obama Administration’s multi-pronged effort to expand broadband access in America and ensure every classroom and library has high-speed Internet by 2018.
Common Sense also strongly supports one of those efforts, the FCC’s effort to reform and modernize the 40-year-old Lifeline low-income phone service to also include an option for broadband access to underserved homes to ensure all kids have equal access to learning technology at home and at school.