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Friday, September 16, 2005

Katrina aid

Those of us who spend too much time on all things E-Rate have been abuzz about Hurricane Katrina and how it would affect the E-Rate program. Well, we finally have an FCC press release on the subject. Here's my summary of the action the FCC intends to take:
1) a new application window for affected schools
2) "highest level of priority" and "steepest level of discounts" for affected schools for this year and next
3) amendments to applications for schools taking in students from affected areas

I'm not sure what #2 means. Are they going to put all the schools in the area at a 90% discount?

What affect is a new application window going to have on existing applications? My hope is that PIA is going to start shoving applications through even faster to brace for the new applications and amendments. I'm worried about the SLD's database system for tracking funding. It already can't handle a simple mid-year SPIN change; what's it going to do with an out-of-cycle application window and amended applications?

The FCC says it will cost$132 million. I wonder how the FCC arrived at that figure. If it's really that low, then it shouldn't have too drastic an impact on the fund. And that's OK with me; paying for disaster relief through a surcharge on my phone bill seems a bit odd. But if they're going to give all these schools 90%, I have my doubts.

If all those schools are going to get a 90% discount on top of federal disaster aid, they're going to build nice networks. I'm seeing costs around $100,000 just to swap out the routers and switches in a small (300-500 students) school. Phone system, wiring, maybe some video, plus maintenance? I'm thinking $200,000 per school. $132 million covers 660 schools at that rate. The NCES says there are 4,165 schools in LA, MS and AL. New Orleans has 160. And that's only public schools.

Looking at it another way, New Orleans school district's initial request for the 05-06 year was $35 million. So before Katrina hit, they were going to use $35 million. But the whole area is going to use only $132 million to completely rebuild?

I hope the FCC is right.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Avoiding E-Rate Application Pitfalls

If you aren't able to make this afternoon's Webinar "Avoiding E-Rate Application Pitfalls," you should at least take a look at the handout. It's full of useful nuggets about making the application process easier and maximizing your funding.

If you're interested in the Webinar, check out our E-Rate Webinar page.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Discounts going up?

I'm curious to see whether there will be a widespread change in the discount levels this year. At least here in NJ, this is the first year that the NSLP forms will cover an entire household, instead of requiring a separate form for each student. One problem that schools have had is that high school (and middle school) students are embarassed to receive free lunches, so they don't return the form.

It's a pattern I see over and over: the elementary schools in a district are at an 80% discount, the middle schools are at 60%, and the high school is at 40%. And since the high school is large, it drags the weighted average way down. I've seen districts use the forms as raffle tickets; students will actually return them if they have a chance at winning a CD player or something.

Now if the high school student's form is sent back with a younger sibling, it will actually reach the district. Will we be able to detect a trend toward higher discounts?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

How far behind is PIA review?

I was wondering whether I should be upset that only about two thirds of my clients' funding requests had passed through PIA review. So I did an analysis of the SLD's data and found out that I should be happy. Nationwide, as of September 2, 2005, only about 35% of FRNs submitted, representing 25% of the total funding requested, had cleared review. So my clients are doing about twice as well as the national average.

To see the percentage of undecided FRNs and the percentage of funding undecided, click here.

For more detailed data, click here.