District Administration April 2017 - 26


BeyondtheNews
E-rate still helps with connections
The E-rate program, which is entering its 20th cycle and is worth $4 billion, is
still giving. It can still help districts connect their school buildings to the internet, says John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning consulting firm.
Almost all of the physical infrastructure necessary to wire a school building for internet access qualifies for E-rate funding. Eligible expenses include
wireless access points, data cabling, network switches and other related
items such as conduits and connectors. Administrators can also seek E-rate
funds to install high-speed data connections between buildings. Most districts
choose to connect their buildings via a wide area network, and lease one central connection to the internet, Harrington says.
Such connectivity arrangements are cost-effective because they allow
all schools to share a single internet connection. They also enhance network
security because a centralized firewall and other security measures monitor
the internet traffic flowing throughout the district. And such arrangements
keep all internal communication within the district. For example, an e-mail
between a few teachers never leaves the district's network.
"For many years, the E-rate program helped only a small number of
schools-about 1 in 20 schools could receive those funds," Harrington says.
"When the program was reformed [in late 2014], all school sites could qualify
for some funding for internal connections. But a lot of district administrators
I've talked to recently haven't really gotten that memo. They don't think it can
help them with their hardware needs, and that's not true."
So far, only one in four schools have used hardware funding under E-rate.
Funding for leasing connections
Also, in the past, districts had to lease data connections between buildings,
typically from a local phone or cable company, even if those buildings were
across the street from each other, Harrington says. The connections are in
the form of physical cables (either copper or fiber optics) that run between
physical addresses within the community.
Now districts can use E-rate funding to lease such connections or install
a high-speed fiber optic cable themselves. In most cases, wires are hung on
telephone poles around the community (which is the least expensive route),
or the cables are buried under or alongside city roads, Harrington says.
Need for speed
Reform in the E-rate program in 2014 raised the annual spending cap by more
than 60 percent and shifted the program's focus from legacy voice technologies to broadband and Wi-Fi. Districts will have access to more than $4
billion in 2017 for connectivity upgrades. Meanwhile, the number of E-rate
requests for high-speed internet has doubled since last year, according to
Funds for Learning's "2016 E-Rate Trends Report." Other points of the report:
* 74 percent of districts surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that they had
faster internet connections because of the E-rate program.
* 62 percent of districts surveyed agreed or strongly agreed the E-rate competitive bidding process lowers the prices that vendors quote for services.
* 87 percent of districts agreed or strongly agreed that E-rate funding is vital to
their internet connectivity goals.
See DAmag.me/f7 for the full report.
- Angela Pascopella

26 April 2017

'Empowerment
Zone' offers
hope to failing
schools
By Lauren Barack
Six Springfield, Massachusetts, middle
schools, flagged as close to failing by the
state two years ago, seized an unusual
opportunity to run themselves.
Now they form the Springfield
Empowerment Zone Partnership, an
entity that's still part of the Springfield
Public Schools but which functions with
more autonomy than the district's other
schools. The program was developed by
the district, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and
the Springfield Education Association
teachers' union.
Not a charter, not a typical school
The Empowerment Zone is neither a
typical district school nor a charter
school. It provides a third approach
by keeping elements of the district
structure, such as neighborhood school
assignments, unionized faculty and a
board with a local voice. And while
charter schools generally require students to apply, middle school students
who live in the Empowerment Zone can
just enroll. But like charters, individualized school teams have more flexibility
to run their own schools.
Each of the nine Empowerment
Zone schools (the original six middle
schools were turned into nine) has a
principal and a teacher leadership team,
each elected by their school peers. Each
also sets its own curriculum, manages
staff and runs its budget, which can
range from $2 million to $6.5 million
for the middle schools, and more than
$10 million for a high school joining the
zone next fall.
The model for academic growth is
District Administration


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