Ed-Tech Policy

E-Rate Purchases for Chicago Schools Found Wasted

By Andrew Trotter — January 28, 2004 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A congressional committee is asking why $5 million in telecommunications equipment that was purchased for the Chicago public schools with federal E- rate money was never installed and has been sitting for years in a warehouse.

U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter dated Jan. 15 to Chicago school officials, asking for audits and other records of the district’s E-rate projects that were awarded funding in 1999 and 2000.

The committee has been investigating charges nationwide that the E-rate program, which gives schools and libraries discounts on the cost of telecommunications, is rife with waste, fraud, and abuse. Money for the $2.25 billion annual program is raised through a tax on telephone bills.

The House panel expects to hold hearings in late February or early March, committee spokesman Ken Johnson said last week.

SBC Communications Inc., the San Antonio-based vendor for the Chicago district’s E-rate-financed projects, told committee aides that about $5 million in equipment bought with money from the second and third funding years of the program was still in storage, Mr. Johnson said.

Assigning Blame

Traveling to Chicago several weeks ago, congressional investigators found cables, electronic switches, and some computers in storage, he said.

“Clearly the equipment is outdated and no longer functional—it’s a glaring example of the waste and abuse in the system,” Mr. Johnson said.

District officials pinned the blame on the vendor.

“All I can say is, we never received the equipment,” said Celeste Garrett, a spokeswoman for the 437,000-student Chicago school system. “In my mind, it’s always been sitting in an SBC warehouse—never delivered, though paid for.”

SBC spokesman Dave Pacholczyk said the equipment was purchased as part of a three-year, $159 million projectincluding $139 million in E-rate fundsto install networks at more than 300 Chicago schools.

“It’s neither’s fault,” he said. “The delay was the result of a lot of different factors.”

In general, E- rate-financed projects must be completed no later than about 16 months after the money is awarded, said Mel Blackwell, the vice president for external communications for the Universal Service Administrative Co., or USAC, the Washington-based agency that manages the program for the Federal Communications Commission.

“You cannot have equipment sitting around and never installed,” Mr. Blackwell said. “If that’s the case, we will ask for the money back. That is a violation.”

Experts note that USAC has worked recently to strengthen its systems for preventing waste, fraud, and abuse. (“FCC Issues New E-Rate Rules to Help Simplify the Program,” Jan. 14, 2004).

Still, problems persist, Mr. Johnson said.

“USAC has made some much-needed improvements,” he said. “But much more needs to be done before we’ll be satisfied.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as E-Rate Purchases for Chicago Schools Found Wasted


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy Reported Essay Remote Learning Isn’t Just for Emergencies
Schools were less prepared for digital learning than they thought they were.
5 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Ed-Tech Policy Opinion Why Are We Turning Our Backs on Remote Learning?
Neither the detractors nor defenders of remote learning are fully in the right, argues one superintendent.
Theresa Rouse
5 min read
Illustration of girl working on computer at home.
Ed-Tech Policy Letter to the Editor Using E-Rate to Address the Homework Gap
The FCC's E-rate program can provide relief to many families, says this letter author from the Internet Society.
1 min read
Ed-Tech Policy Q&A Acting FCC Chair: The 'Homework Gap' Is an 'Especially Cruel' Reality During the Pandemic
Under the new leadership of Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC is exploring broadening the E-Rate to cover home-connectivity needs.
5 min read
Internet connectivity doesn't reach all the houses
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty