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What Is Erate? And the Erate Needs Assessment

Erate overview:

School is back in session, and in-person and Erate funds are available to help meet your school technology needs!  

The Erate program is known by several different names, including USAC, Erate, and Schools and Libraries, but as a famous Playwright/Poet once surmised, “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (W. Shakespeare c. 1600). If you have worked with Erate you will probably get the pun. We lovingly refer to this program as Erate. Reimbursements are made through the Erate program to specifically benefit schools and libraries. An important note is that funding for the eligible equipment is for internal infrastructure like switches and access points that schools and libraries need to provide wireless Internet access. This program, unfortunately, does not pay for laptops, Chromebooks or printers and other end-user equipment. 

The E-rate funding year currently runs from July 1-June 30 each year. The upcoming 2023 funding year application window close date has not been announced yet but is typically in March. There are multiple steps to take and forms with a bunch of numbers instead of names to submit. It might seem like March is a long time away, but there are multiple forms, an open bid process, regulations and pitfalls to avoid. Prioritize Erate now so that there is not a mad scramble before the deadline to process the forms, bids and contracts. The first step in the process is the Erate Needs Assessment.

The Erate Needs Assessment

A needs assessment should be conducted to determine what the school will need and can then request from the Erate program. The tricky part is that the needs assessment projects what is expected to be needed for the next school year. Yes, it is difficult to plan this far in advance, but Erate sets its funding window up about six months in advance of the next funding year. 

The needs assessment should include looking at how technology can be used to support student learning. It should also consider how technology can improve information safety, tools for teachers, and staff productivity. If the school has a strategic or technology plan, this can be utilized by school leaders to help determine the school’s technology needs for the next school year. Erate eligible services and equipment are broken out into two different categories:

Category 1

Category one is for Internet services. This category does not have a fixed budget. This is a great way to boost up bandwidth to help improve online learning and standardized test taking. Through the Erate program, the school will always have to pay a portion of the expenses (Cost share) for Internet, equipment and maintenance. The school cost share depends on the number of students that qualify for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Erate can pay up to 90% of the monthly Internet costs.

Category 2

Category two is for Internal connections (equipment) and ongoing maintenance. Category 2 has a set budget. The budget is currently set at $167 per student over a five-year period. For example, If the school has 200 students:

200 x $167= $33,500

The school receives $33,500 to spend on equipment and ongoing maintenance over a five-year period. A current list of Erate eligible equipment includes:

• Antennas, connectors, and related components used for internal broadband connections

• Cabling

• Caching server

• Firewall services and firewall components are separate from basic firewall protection provided as a standard component of a vendor’s Internet access service. 

• Racks

• Routers

• Switches

• Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)/Battery Backup

• Access points used in a local area network (LAN) or wireless local area network (WLAN) environment (such as wireless access points)

• Wireless controller systems

Conducting a needs assessment before moving to the next step in the Erate process is essential to determine the school’s specific projected needs for additional bandwidth in the next school year. Internet pricing tends to be slightly lower each year, so understanding the anticipated need provides an advantage when seeking service quotes. The needs assessment for equipment should include the make, model and quantity needed by the school. 

Pro tip-Make sure your new services or equipment will work with older equipment. For example, if you plan to increase bandwidth, check to ensure your Firewall can handle the additional throughput.  

Conducting a thorough needs assessment will help the school be better prepared to move to the next Erate step-the Open Bidding Process. Be thorough, but do not delay. The needs assessment will help the school gather the information needed to file the Form 470. Over the next few weeks, we will discuss the entire Erate process in more detail including:

• Form 470 and the open bid process

• Choosing Service Providers 

• Filing the application (Form 471)

Grant Consulting Services, LLC has over 15 years of experience in the Erate process and has helped multiple schools across the nation receive millions of dollars for much-needed technology. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss how we can help you maximize your technology dollars through the Erate program. 

Connect with us to learn more about our services at (760) 237-8327 or

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