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E-Rate boost to provide critical tools for learning

By Craig Thibaudeau
December 11, 2014
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" "There will never be a day when technology replaces teachers, but there will be a day when tech-savvy teachers replace those who are not." "
—Kecia Ray, ISTE Board chair and executive director of Learning Technologies and Library Services for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

Kecia Ray's quote resonates with me, as I'm sure it does with most ed tech evangelists who appreciate the need for teachers who are proficient in digital age skills. Today, the members of Federal Communications Commission demonstrated that they get it, too. The commission provided a much-needed boost in the funding cap for the E-Rate program, and sent a clear message that great teachers need access to reliable connections, great resources and effective tools to empower today's students on their way to becoming tomorrow's leaders. 

For years, ISTE members have been advocating for an increase in the cap and updated policies. That makes us that much more grateful that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, along with Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, supported an increase of the annual E-Rate funding cap by $1.5 billion.

This additional investment to deliver high-speed connectivity — coupled with the modernization of the E-Rate rules the commission passed in July — will enable many more schools and districts to provide the basic infrastructure educators need to successfully deliver digital age learning.

For those of you who have been tracking the E-Rate discussion, you might be wondering, " "What took so long?" " I believe it comes down to leadership. It took a chairman and commissioners willing to listen to the needs of educators and students, learn about the options, and then lead change through decisive action.

This is precisely the path this commission has taken.

In July, we celebrated the commission's action to modernize the program rules. These changes came about in large part because the commission listened to educators. Hundreds of ISTE members filed comments with the FCC on its E-Rate order. They shared stories about how many mobile learning programs are not able to be fully launched due to a lack of support. They explained how additional funding would provide options to reallocate operating funds previously set aside for infrastructure to other priorities, such as teacher professional development, devices and digital curriculum. They shared stories about how the E-Rate is impacting students and creating opportunities in communities too often left behind.

The commission listened and understood that change was needed. For the past four months, the commission has been actively seeking input on the E-Rate annual funding cap. Again, ISTE members weighed in with the commission about what they needed for their students to engage in digital learning and how much it would cost. The commission listened, learned and determined just how far E-Rate dollars could stretch, as well as better understood the real challenges education leaders face when it comes to supporting and implementing digital learning environments.

This week, we're celebrating a historic decision by the commission to increase the annual funding cap by more than 60 percent. ISTE expresses its sincere thanks to the chairman for his leadership on this critical decision that opens digital doors for many more students and educators.

Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Rosenworcel and Clyburn displayed true leadership on this complex challenge. Their commitment and patience to listen, learn and lead will have a lasting impact on delivering digital learning to students across the country.

Craig Thibaudeau is ISTE's chief external relations officer. He has more than 30 years of senior-level association management experience representing U.S. nonprofit, domestic and international organizations and has specialized in nonprofit strategic planning, legislative advocacy, marketing and communications, membership and event management.