Last Friday, the FCC voted to modernize the E-Rate program. The plan as passed is a vast improvement over what had been introduced and what AASA members were lobbying against as part of the 2014 AASA Legislative Advocacy Conference, held in DC last week.
As a bit of context, what happened in E-Rate last week is a case study in how AASA's approach to advocacy works. We are a member-drive advocacy team, with our legislative and policy priorities identified and defined by our members. We represent our members to Capitol Hill, the White House and the agencies. Further, we treat advocacy as a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, there was a flurry of letters, calls, emails and meetings in the final week of the order. But those conversations built on more than a year of deliberate AASA advocacy and outreach relating to E-Rate modernization. Starting with the FCC's proposal last year, AASA submitted comments and issued member call to actions; our 2013 Back to School Toolkit was all about E-Rate, and our blog and advocacy updates regularly relayed the E-Rate goings-on.
This approach to advocacy culminated last week. When AASA members took to the hill, their message was clear and the weight of the superintendent voice rang strong: modernization of E-Rate is a priority, but the Chairman's initial proposal just wouldn't work. AASA members were saying what AASA advocacy had communicated, highlighting that AASA truly represents its members. AASA members had a simple ask, encouraging their members of Congress to weigh in with the FCC to urge them to either slow the process down to get it right and/or to submit a letter to the FCC highlighting concerns with the proposal (which included per pupil funding, shifting the poverty indicator to district level from school level, and more). And AASA members delivered. Collectively, there were nearly ten points of contact from Congress to the FCC, covering House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans. We may not be the biggest education advocacy group out there, but your voice was one of the loudest last week.
The FCC adopted the final proposal along straight party lines, with Chairman Wheeler voting with Rosenworcel and Clyburn for the plan and Commissioners Pai and O'Rielly dissenting. The actual plan itself has yet to be released in written form. The details we are working from the the information we have relayed are all based on discussion; once we have the final plan, we will post an analysis to the blog. In the meantime, you can access:
Top line: The plan they passed is a vast improvement over what we had briefed you on earlier this week. There are NO permanent changes to the core E-Rate program. Priority One will be called Category One, but must be fully funded before any funds can go to WiFi. The entirety of the proposal for the 5 year plan, which included $2 b in the first two and promised additional funding in the out years, is now a TEST. Depending on how it pans out, the FCC will later consider making the changes permanent. Once the Category One is fully funded, any remaining available funds in each of the out years can be used for the test. The test will include the per pupil cap, and libraries will receive per-square foot funding. While this is something we opposed, getting it knocked from a permanent change to a test is huge; either way, we win: the two year test will prove our point, or we will see it is a better option.
The vote included the call for an immediate rule to consider raising the ERate cap. This is huge. While it does not raise the cap now, it starts the conversation now. It will unify elements of the broader ERate beneficiary community, who while divided on some of the policies in this vote can unite behind the need for funding. We will do an extensive call to action around this, when the time comes. We anticipate this to be in September.
We did NOT get the poverty base win. That means poverty will be calculated at the district level .I believe this is a permanent change, but cannot confirm that.
This is not a perfect, 100% win, It is a great compromise, and in the adage of ‘the perfect can’t be the enemy of the good’, this is beyond good; this is fantastic.