The Advocate July 2021: Emergency Connectivity Fund

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The Advocate July 2021: Emergency Connectivity Fund

Sometimes naming a phenomenon is all it takes to shift a conversation, to step towards a solution. And sometimes, not.

In February 2020, 17 long months before COVID upended everything, the term homework gap existed and was used to address the very unfortunate reality--and worst kept secret in education--that as many as 12-17 million students in the U.S. lacked internet access at home. Naming the homework gap helped us to talk about it, but getting serious response to the homework gap? That took a pandemic. 

Even before the pandemic shuttered schools and shifted our students into remote/online learning, students without connectivity were at an educational disadvantage because they could not complete homework assignments that required internet access after class. This inequity was simultaneously exacerbated and shoved to center stage when COVID shut schools. 

In response to this crisis Congress passed Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The ECF is a $7.17 billion program which allows schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The ECF will be distributed along the lines of the E-rate program. It will be similarly managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) through the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) portal. Any school or library that has ever applied for funding through the E-rate program will already be familiar with the eligibility requirements and application procedure for the ECF. This funding is only for purchases made beginning July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. Ed tech purchases prior to July 1 can be reimbursed by the American Rescue Plan funding and other COVID-relief packages. 

Under the ECF program eligible equipment for reimbursement includes: laptop computers, tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers  and devices that combine modems and routers. Districts cannot be reimbursed for desktop computers and mobile phones. There are price caps in place for purchases of $400 per computer and $250 per hotspot as well as distribution limits to ensure a student or school employee receives only one fixed broadband connection (or modem) per location or one computer/tablet per person. Other eligible services for reimbursement include: home internet access delivered via a commercial provider; the activation, installation and initial configuration costs for eligible equipment and services and school construction of self-provisioned networks to connect students and staff – only where there are no commercially available service options. The ECF funding cannot be used for purchasing cybersecurity tools, learning management systems, video conferencing equipment, standalone microphones and technology protection measures required by CIPA. 

The 45-day application window opened on June 29; schools and libraries have until August 13 to apply for the funding. This is a very tight turnaround on a new tranche of funding at the exact time that schools are working to plan and invest unprecedented amounts of federal funding. It is a daunting task, but also critically necessary and possible. 

 For more information and resources, check out the ECF's website or Funds for Learning's ECF Guide. Or check out the AASA webinar we did on the ECF in coordination with ASBO,  “Using Federal Funds to Get Students Connected & Fix the Homework Gap”. 

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