Web Site for Federal 'E-Rate' Discounts Goes On-Line
The launch last week of a Web site administered by the Schools and Libraries Corp. formally opened the filing period for "the E-rate," the new federal discounts for schools and libraries on telecommunications services for learning.
Schools and libraries may now apply to receive discounts for this year. The discounts will range from 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of telephone and Internet services and a range of other services and equipment.
A school's discount will depend on the proportion of its students who are eligible for the national school lunch program and whether the school is rural or urban. Library discounts will be based on the lunch-eligibility figures in the local school-attendance area.
In a written statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley urged all schools and libraries to begin the application process "right away."
The education rate "will help to make the information age a reality for all of our schools, if they apply. And the 90 percent discount for those in poor and rural areas is an opportunity that should not be missed," Mr. Riley said.
To apply, school officials must complete two forms--either on-line at the World Wide Web site or on paper versions mailed to the SLC processing center in Iowa City, Iowa. The Web address is www.slcfund.org. ("'E-Rate' Program's Imminent Launch Has Educators High on Technology," Jan. 14, 1998.)
Up to $2.25 billion will be available to schools through the end of this year.
Discounts for eligible projects will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis--with the important exception that all applications received by April 14 will be given equal priority. The final $250 million of this year's fund is reserved for the poorest schools, if necessary.
The application period for next year will open in July.
At the very minimum, schools should apply for discounts on the telecommunications services they're already receiving, Frank J. Gumpert, a member of the SLC's board of directors, said at a meeting with reporters a few days before the launch of the Web site.
Other board members said the Web site would be easy to use. Kathleen G. Ouye, the board chairman and the librarian of the San Mateo city library in California, said she had members of the library staff test the application process.
"We've been very demanding of our staff and our subcontractors to make this a robust site," Ms. Ouye said.
The Web site will accommodate 1,000 users simultaneously, SLC officials said. They expect to receive about 50,000 applications this year--from individual schools and libraries, from districts and various combinations of schools, and from entire states.
Linda G. Roberts, the U.S. Department of Education's director of educational technology, said schools can turn to their state education departments for help.
"The states are really well prepared," Ms. Roberts said. "To their credit, they've been helping to prepare school districts" and regional service agencies.
Some states are targeting other funds to help schools cover their portion of the cost of the services, she said.
Help is also available on-line and via the SLC hot line at (888) 203-8100. The hot line has received more than 8,000 calls and 600 e-mail queries since it opened in mid-December.
SLC Executive Director Ira Fishman said his staff would continue to participate in conferences nationwide to help educators understand the E-rate program.
Mr. Fishman said they are also trying hard to inform companies that may provide E-rate services to schools about how the program will work--and especially how the companies will be paid.
SLC board member Mr. Gumpert, the vice president of long-range public policy at Bell Atlantic Corp. in Philadelphia, said some vendors may be hesitant about the program, in part because Form 486, which schools must file to have vendors be reimbursed from the E-rate fund, has not yet been completed.