- More than three-quarters (78%) of school and library E-rate applicants agree or strongly agree that insufficient internet access at home is a significant problem in their community, according to the 12th annual E-rate survey released Thursday by Funds For Learning. That’s an 8 percentage point drop from the previous year, leading to speculation that the homework gap may be starting to close.
- The survey also found an overwhelming 98% of schools and libraries want network security included in the E-rate program, which the Federal Communications Commission oversees. The program — now in its 25th year — provides significant discounts for school internet connections and telecommunications infrastructure, although not for cybersecurity support.
- E-rate applicants are “requesting funds for these networks, but they’re unable to secure them the way they need to in order to make them reliable,” said John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning, a consulting firm that supports schools and libraries in navigating the E-rate funding process.
The decreasing concern over insufficient home internet access shows the homework gap might be starting to close thanks to FCC efforts like the Affordable Connectivity Program, Harrington said.
In the survey, 73% of schools and libraries agreed or strongly agreed that the E-rate program would be the “most practical solution” to fund internet access beyond their campuses.
While the E-rate program is a solid solution toward closing the homework gap for students lacking internet access, Harrington said it will take multiple pathways to address the problem.
Either way, he said, the more schools are involved in conversations about internet access, the better.
“They know who has an internet connection at home,” Harrington said. “Those teachers know … and they can help direct the resources and get the students connected.”
Schools and libraries are still hoping for network support through the E-rate program while cyberattacks continue to threaten school communities, as most recently seen with the major ransomware attack on the Los Angeles Unified School District.
School districts often have limited resources and staffing to dedicate toward strengthening cybersecurity, leaving their networks vulnerable, too.
But overall, the E-rate survey found 94% of schools and libraries agree or strongly agree that the program is vital to their internet connectivity goals. Additionally, 86% agree and strongly agree that more students and library patrons are connected to the internet because of the E-rate program.
“The E-rate program plays an absolutely critical role in helping our nation’s schools and libraries stay connected. It’s vital. They depend on it,” Harrington said. “That’s why they really take seriously these discussions about cybersecurity.”
The survey, conducted in June, covered 2,085 E-rate applicants from schools and libraries, representing about 10% of applicants. According to the report, more than 21,300 applicants and 3,800 vendors participate in the program, supporting almost every school and library in the country.
The E-rate program’s funding cap for FY22 is $4.456 billion, according to Funds For Learning. That is a 4.2% inflation-adjusted increase compared to the FY21 cap of $4.276 billion.