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Charters' E-rate Requests Outpace Other Schools'

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By Michele Molnar. Cross posted from the Marketplace K-12 blog.

Public charter schools are requesting 79 percent more per building from the federal E-rate program than traditional public schools are, according to an Education Week-requested analysis from Funds for Learning.

The Oklahoma-based company, which consults schools on the E-rate, conducted a review of all requests for funding submitted by schools and districts in 2014—about 21,000 applications in all.

The anaylsis shows that smaller applicants generally have to pay more for their services, "likely due to their inability to tap into the economies of scale that bigger applicants benefit from," said John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning. "Usually they're paying higher per-unit prices," so they are likely to request more funding.

At the same time, charters are generally better positioned to leverage newer and faster technologies "simply because it's easier to roll out and successfully integrate new technology to a single school than an entire school district," he added.

The average request for the 2014-15 school year from a traditional school was $19,263 per building for non-charter schools, compared to the $34,437 that was requested per school building, on average.

The 2,355 charter school applications for E-rate funding represented schools representing more than 636,000 students from 33 states.AnalysisCharterSchoolsFundsforLearning.JPG

The E-rate program, which is designed to subsidize schools' and libraries' telecommunications costs, has been billions short in meeting schools' wireless network needs, unable to keep up with the requests of public schools as they continue to add technology, and now a modernization is planned.

In the District of Columbia, where 43 percent of public school students attend charters, there are "great infrastructure challenges with broadband access," especially in more recently established and smaller charter schools, said Patrick Mara, a member of the State Board of Education for the district, who spoke recently on Capitol Hill as part of a panel to encourage legislators to boost technology funding in schools.

Newer charters often have challenges finding facilities for their meetings, and they don't have access to municipal bonds—or other types of funding—that traditional public schools might tap to outfit schools for broadband, he said.

Across the country, the Los Angeles Leadership Academy receives a 90 percent E-rate discount for Priority I services to bring basic interconnectivity to a school, because 90 percent of its approximately 1,000 students are on free- or reduced-price lunches, said William Seguritan, director of information technology. Even receiving $30,000 E-rate funding per school does not get the three-school district (with an elementary, middle and high school) where it needs to be, he said.

A recent infrastructure upgrade allows the schools to support online learning applications "so we can have at least 30 wireless devices per classroom, and they could use anything from iPads to laptops," he said. Right now, Los Angeles Leadership has a 2-to-1 ratio of students to computers, but wants to have a 1-to-1 ratio.

"With common-core (testing) looming on the horizon, and the development of online learning systems that incorporate digital and video applications, we are deficient," said Seguritan.

Read our story about the major upgrades districts are requesting for broadband services, based on Funds for Learning's analysis, here.

The chart above was created by Funds for Learning, at the request of Education Week. 


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