Did you know your school or library can access public funds to help purchase and manage technology? It’s part of the U.S. government’s COVID pandemic recovery initiative.
Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) is a $7.17B program administered by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Recipients can use the money to purchase tablets, laptops, hotspots, and broadband connectivity for school staff and students.
FAQs about the Emergency Connectivity Fund
Many schools, libraries, and consortiums of schools want to know if they qualify for the ECF grant, how much they might get, and how complicated the process will be. Let’s take a look at the ECF and how your school might benefit.
What is the Emergency Connectivity Fund grant?
The ECF began as a federal initiative to help schools and libraries gain the funds to purchase approved technology equipment and services.This fund provided $7.17B to cover items such as modems, routers, Wi-Fi hotspots, Wi-Fi enabled laptops and tablets, and cellular air-cards.
The initial window for application did not receive enough applications for all the money to be spent, so the FCC created a new application window. Grant seekers could apply from September 28, 2021 until October 13, 2021.
Why weren’t schools jumping at this opportunity? Probably the same reason that the FCC’s regular grant program has money left over almost every year — schools are unaware of, unable to meet, or unable to navigate the critical program compliance criteria the government requires.
Who qualified for the Emergency Connectivity Fund?
Not every school and library met the criteria for support. Eligible applicants needed to qualify for the FCC’s E-Rate program or be a Tribal library eligible for support under the Library Services and Technology Act.
What is the primary purpose of the Emergency Connectivity Fund?
The U.S. Congress authorized the ECF to help shrink the “homework gap” caused by a lack of broadband connectivity and technology devices in homes. The beneficiaries of the program are the students and school staff members who would not otherwise be able to access sufficient technology to engage in off-campus learning.
How can my school apply for the Emergency Connectivity Fund?
At this point, you can’t. The window for application to the ECF has already closed. Unless the U.S. government extends the program past 2022 or opens a new window for applications, this pool of money is no longer accessible.
However, E-rate funds are available through the FCC every year. The federal government appropriates these funds to help qualifying K-12 schools offset the costs of upgrading their networks. Most years, applicants for E-Rate funds experience minimal competition.
How can our school apply for E-Rate funding?
E-Rate funds provide 20-29 percent discounts on telecommunications and internet access services. To qualify, schools must meet the published requirements for E-Rate benefits established by the federal government. Schools that meet the qualifications, need to file an FCC Form 470 and then follow the steps on the USAC website.
What other sources of funding can help schools access technology?
Schools can access funding for technology through local donors, foundations, technology companies, and state funds. Often, the money is available. School leadership simply needs to do the research, write the proposal, and maintain compliance with the grant provisions.
What to do once you get the ECF grant
Has your school already applied for an ECF grant? If you receive funding, what do you need to do to stay in good standing with the FCC?
A brief guide to surviving U.S. government procurement policies
You cannot just purchase products where you want, how you want, and for the amount you budgeted. You may not even be allowed to purchase the cheapest product, the product you actually need, or the product you may have listed in your application.
The U.S. government expects you to purchase products that fit their procurement policies — even if these policies make no sense to you. Before you spend any money, triple-check the procurement policies outlined in your award letter.
Questions? Aren’t sure if something is right? Call the number provided to you when you were awarded the grant. You don’t want to be left with equipment you purchased and no reimbursement to cover it because you failed to file a form.
What does my school submit to the government if we get funded?
Anytime you receive federal funds, you become an expert in paperwork. As a recipient of federal funds, you will submit a sheaf of invoices by each deadline along with supporting documentation. Don’t prepay for anything, and don’t fail to submit a form by a deadline.
The FCC also requires ECF fund recipients to “retain for 10 years asset inventories for each connected device or other piece of equipment provided to an individual student, school staff member, or library patron.”
This asset inventory must include several specific pieces of information. If you are paying for services with ECF money, you need to keep a record of all services. Pay attention to each specific requirement the FCC lists about distribution, tracking, management, and support. Follow the rules rigorously.
How to distribute, track, manage, and support your devices
The FCC will expect you to maintain clear and accurate records of how you distributed, tracked, and supported the devices you bought with ECF funds — for 10 years. The best way to meet this requirement is by using an integrated, all-in-one software solution built especially for K-12 schools.
The importance of staying compliant
If you receive ECF funds or any other public or private funds to purchase technology, you must comply with the contract between you and your donor. If you don’t, private foundations will blacklist you, and public agencies can sue you. Individuals can even face criminal charges if they can’t demonstrate where each penny of a federal grant ended up.
The U.S. government (along with private donors) is making a lot of money available for school technology right now. It’s a great time to scoop up some new devices or services. But if you choose to accept any grant money, you must maintain compliance with the grant guidelines and restrictions.
Almost certainly, those guidelines will require you to stay on top of your new devices. Contact us to find out more about how we can help.