The Funding Guide for your Digital Divide Solutions
Defeating the Digital Divide can be complex and challenging for schools, but it does not have to be a financial burden. While acquiring funding for a solution may seem daunting, there are several opportunities for districts to identify their needs and find funding to accommodate them.
Most schools already spend a significant amount of money on connectivity every year through the E-rate program, which provides discounts to help ensure that eligible U.S. schools have access to affordable information services and internet access. But these expenditures only apply to connectivity inside the school during school hours.
The Digital Divide occurs when kids are not in school, and refers to the gap between students with reliable internet connections and those with the inability to learn remotely due to a lack of or inadequate connectivity. And even with dependable connectivity, most schools don’t have the ability to monitor activity and provide security to make sure the at-home learning environment is just as robust and proactively managed as it is in the school.
Bringing the issue to light
While the COVID-19 pandemic did not create the Digital Divide, it highlighted the challenges associated with it when students across the country were forced to learn remotely from home. Many districts have also realized that some portion of learning will never return to the classroom, so the need for reliable connectivity will never diminish. So it’s important for school districts to identify how many students are lacking reliable coverage, and what solutions are available to them to bridge that gap.
Defeating the Digital Divide does not have to be a major financial burden on schools. Several government funding opportunities have emerged to help districts bring secure, reliable internet access to students outside of school. These include Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund.
Over the last 18 months, schools have utilized ESSER funds for a variety of connectivity solutions so students can complete assignments out of class, from constructing their own private Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks to outfitting school buses with Cradlepoint routers and driving them to remote areas to provide Wi-Fi hotspots.
While some rounds of funding have already closed to applicants, other rounds of ESSER funds are still available — ESSER 2 won’t expire until September 30th of next year, and ESSER 3 the year after that. This is the first place schools should look for federal funds. Various grants and funds are also available at the state level, through governors’ offices and various agencies within the state.
Step 1: Pinpoint the funding source
The information schools need to provide to be eligible for grants and other funding assistance varies depending on a variety of factors, including the need and the state the district is located in. The first step is to learn who administers the fund in your state. Just as each grant application is different from another, each states controls the ESSER funds it received and decides how to distribute those funds. In some states, the funds move through the state Department of Education. In others, it’s gone through the office of the state technology coordinator, while still others are disbursed through the governor’s office.
Step 2: Identify needs and goals
Once they’ve determined who’s in charge of the funding, schools should outline their challenges and solutions for overcoming them. Partnering with a technology expert enables districts to identify gaps in access and engineer the solution to come up with the costs and the coverage they need. They’ll want to apply with a very detailed plan spelling out exactly what the area is that’s underserved, how many students are affected, what their barriers to reliable internet access are, and how they want to construct a solution to provide connectivity.
Step 3: Prepare the application
Once the goals and solution are outlined, filing for funds can begin. Unlike previous years, technology partners can now be much more involved in the funding application process to help put schools on a path to a successful grant application. We can make recommendations and clarify any questions they might have before submitting, so when they go to file their application is as complete as possible. While process time varies for every grant, the most thoroughly prepared, well written grants are processed faster and have a higher degree of likelihood to be funded than those that are thin on details and documentation.
The demands of technology management on schools have never been greater. But providing reliable internet access for all students is not only achievable today, it’s already funded. Defeat the Digital Divide offers a managed service for this solution to extend classroom learning without them having to add staff and learn an entirely new wireless protocol. Look at our funding “Cheat Sheet” to learn about the opportunities available and how to bring them to life.