A Critical Facet

E-rate funding for web hosting connects parents to district and student success.

GUEST COLUMN | by Edward S. Marflak 

CREDIT schoolwiresThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently working to develop new regulations to modernize the E-rate funding program for K-12 districts. One of the Commission’s goals is to ensure that schools and libraries have affordable access to 21st century broadband to support digital learning. While there are critical and much needed updates to the E-rate program, there is a growing concern in the K-12 community that the FCC may consider eliminating the status of Web hosting as a Priority One Service within the E-rate program. In other words, new regulations intended to expand broadband and digital learning may also stop the funding that powers school and district websites all across the country.

In a recent national survey, 100 percent of K-12 district administrators responded that Web hosting should remain funded as a Priority One Service within the E-rate program. More than 400 educational leaders from school districts of all sizes and types responded to the survey in 2013 and 2010.

While broadband provides the raw connectivity required to support new digital learning strategies, school websites serve as the primary access points for digital learning resources and parental engagement. Thus, today’s secure Web hosting infrastructure works hand in hand with broadband to advance digital learning goals and foster the important school-home connection. As hundreds of educational leaders have already noted, it simply doesn’t make sense to pull the plug on school website funding when the broader national policy objective is to accelerate broadband adoption, digital learning and parental engagement. To those of us who work in and support the K-12 market, the disconnect is obvious.

Continued E-rate funding for Web hosting – and the seamless learning and community engagement it supports – is essential. Research clearly states that parent engagement is a direct precursor and a critical support resource to student achievement. For example, the University of New Hampshire found that “parental effort is consistently associated with higher levels of achievement, and the magnitude of the effect of parental effort is substantial”.

In order to keep today’s digital parents engaged, districts need to keep communications virtual and mobile. The new digital parent is fluent with technology tools personally, and has high expectations for the use of digital tools and resources within their child’s learning environments. Websites provide the central hub for ongoing digital communications and applications that support parent engagement and student success. Schools rely on their websites every day to easily and cost-effectively communicate with parents through notifications of important school events, to conduct polls and surveys to seek input on school policies and programs, and to keep parents apprised of their children’s classroom activities and progress.

Websites also are central to communications between teacher and student, and the district and community. The indispensable role of district websites was echoed throughout the responses of districts in the national survey:

  •  98 percent state that district, school, and classroom websites perform critical educational functions.
  •  95 percent state that websites provide a cost effective mechanism for sharing relevant and timely information.
  •  85 percent state that websites strengthen parent engagement.
  •  75 percent state that websites increase out-of-school learning time.
  •  61 percent state that websites level the playing field across rural and urban schools by providing easy access to 21st century tools and digital learning resources.

Almost all (98 percent) of the respondents stated that their Web presence, enabled by Web hosting, is more important than in 2003 when Web hosting was first added to the E-rate program Eligible Services List as a Priority One service. 

Web hosting increases return on broadband investment

Discontinuing E-rate support for Web hosting would create a costly gap in the school-home connection. In its research, UNH found that “schools would need to increase per pupil spending by more than $1,000 in order to achieve the same results that are gained with parental involvement.”

At a cost of pennies per student per week, Web hosting is one of the most cost-effective and highest-impact services funded by E-rate; and it provides a greater return on broadband investment. Nationwide, more than 5,000 school districts filed for E-rate support for Web hosting for the 2014-2015 funding year. Given the decline in school funding over the last decade, the continuation of this funding is more important than ever.

In a February 21, 2014 letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, more than 600 school administrators and educators urged the FCC to continue E-rate funding for Web hosting citing that:

“The elimination of E-rate funding support for Web hosting would cause serious hardship for many school districts that would be forced to cut already tight budgets. These cuts could result in staffing reductions and/or the scaling back of key web and digital learning initiatives.”

My company strongly supports the FCC’s efforts to modernize and reform the E-rate program. However, the national survey of school administrators and educators from across the country shows their concern that the Commission recognizes the mission-critical role of Web hosting and its support of digital learning and accelerating broadband adoption. The elimination of this funding would threaten and undermine the ability of schools to achieve parental engagement and digital learning goals. Without this funding source, schools would need to reduce online communication or make staffing cutbacks that could hinder progress in digital learning.

Now that the Commission has heard from hundreds of school leaders and educators across the country about the importance of Web hosting, we are hopeful that this critical facet of the program will continue to receive full support as the E-rate program evolves.

Edward S. Marflak is Chairman and Founder of Schoolwires. Write to: emarflak@schoolwires.com

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