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Technology Plans and the E-Rate Program:  A Primer for Schools and Libraries

Introduction

Under rules promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission, an E-rate applicant approved for Priority 2 discounts must affirmatively certify that it is covered by an approved technology plan.

The premise of the requirement for an approved technology plan is to assure that    E-rate funding will be used effectively. A brief summary of the objectives of, and the requirements for, an approved plan is provided in the technology plan section of the SLD's web site.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recognized the necessity of thoughtful preparations for the use of these new technologies when they stipulated that requests for Universal Service Program discounts must be based on an approved technology plan….To ensure that schools and libraries are prepared to use the requested services effectively, and to make certain that students and community members experience the real benefits of the Universal Service Program, applicants must certify that their requests are based on approved technology plans that include provisions for integrating telecommunication services and Internet access into their educational program or library services. Many schools and libraries are already engaged in the development and refinement of such plans.

To qualify as an approved Technology Plan for a Universal Service discount, the plan must meet the following four criteria that are core elements of successful school and library technology initiatives:

  1. the plan must establish clear goals and a realistic strategy for using telecommunications and information technology to improve education or library services;
     
  2. the plan must have a professional development strategy to ensure that staff know how to use these new technologies to improve education or library services;
     
  3. the plan must include an assessment of the telecommunication services, hardware, software, and other services that will be needed to improve education or library services; and
     
  4. the plan must include an evaluation process that enables the school or library to monitor progress toward the specified goals and make mid-course corrections in response to new developments and opportunities as they arise.

Successful plans align these four criteria with the overall education or library service improvement objectives of states, districts, and local schools or libraries. It is critical that technology planning not be viewed or treated as a separate exercise dealing primarily with hardware and telecommunications infrastructure. There must be strong connections between the proposed physical infrastructure of the information technology and the plan for professional development, curriculum reform, and library service improvements.

Purpose

The purpose of this Primer is to provide basic guidance for schools and libraries in the preparation of technology plans meeting the minimum core requirements for E-rate approval and for submitting those plans for approval.

Although a general outline for a technology plan, incorporating all core E-rate requirements, is provided as Attachment 1, this Primer is not meant as treatise in technology planning. Numerous books, Internet resources, and consultants are available to assist with the development of a full and effective technology plan. One good starting point on the web is the U.S. Department of Education’s technology page listing resources available by state.

Specifically, this Primer is designed to address five points — the time frame covered by the plan and suggested approaches to meet the four core requirements.

Timeframe

The period of time covered is important for technology planning purposes. If too short, there is little that planning can accomplish. Practically, from an E-rate viewpoint, too short a plan would require more frequent plan approvals. Too long, on the other hand, suggests a plan that will become out-of-date as technology or needs change.

Although the SLD does not mandate a specific timeframe, there is a strong suggestion that it cover a three-year period. To quote again from the SLD web site:

Approved Technology Plans should cover a period of three years. Long-range planning is important for the effective use of information technology in schools and libraries. This may be particularly important in the case of some lease-purchase arrangements or very large capital investments that require extended commitments. However, in view of the rapid development cycle of new technologies and services, schools and libraries should approach long-term commitments with caution. To balance these concerns, a three year planning cycle is appropriate. All approved plans should include provisions for evaluating progress toward the plan's goals, and ideally these assessments should occur on an annual basis.

Core Requirements

Core Requirement No. 1

The plan must establish clear goals and a realistic strategy for using telecommunications and information technology to improve education or library services.

The first requirement is the broadest and must set, in part, a framework for the four other more targeted requirements. One recommendation to meeting this requirement is to start with a general mission or vision statement. Several ideas for a school’s mission statement are included in Appendix 2.

Examples of specific school goals and implementing strategies are provided in Appendix 3. Although the ideas and examples shown in these two appendices are school-related, most should be easily adapted for library plans.

Note that this strategic requirement refers to telecommunications services, not just information technology services. More broadly, technology plans approved for E-rate purposes should cover all services included in an applicant’s E-rate application.

Core Requirement No. 2

The plan must have a professional development strategy to ensure that staff know how to
use these new technologies to improve education or library services.

Staff development is an important portion of the technology plan. Key components of the development strategy might include:

    • An assessment of current staff computer and networking skills and usage.
    • An ongoing training program involving:
    • In-service training
    • Mentoring
    • Off-site workshops
    • Tuition support for professional courses
    • Recognition and encouragement of professional technology certifications

(See, as one example, ISTE’s Foundation Standards available on the web)

See also the specific strategy examples shown for Goal 3 in Appendix 3.

Core Requirement No. 3

The plan must include an assessment of the telecommunication services, hardware,
software, and other services that will be needed to improve education or library services.

In addition to an assessment of current staff development skills, addressed above, the plan should include an assessment (or inventory) of technology services and products that are currently being used and that are scheduled to be acquired within the planning timeframe.  A sample Technology Inventory Form that might be used for this assessment, and included in the technology plan, is provided in Appendix 4.

Core Requirement No. 4

The plan must include an evaluation process that enables the school or library to monitor progress toward the specified goals and make mid-course corrections in response to new developments and opportunities as they arise.

The final requirement that should be addressed within the plan is how the plan itself will be evaluated and modified over its life. A brief discussion of this evaluation process is provided in Appendix 5. See also the specific strategy examples shown for Goal 5 in Appendix 3.

Optional Component:

Effective for FY 2011, beginning July 1, 2011, approved E-rate technology plans no longer are required to provide budgetary information. In our view, however, budgets are a critical aspect of the planning process and should be included. We recommend that projected expenditures for each year of the technology plan be shown, broken down by major expense categories. Projected funding for the plan should also be shown, indicating what portions are to be funded out of the annual operating budget, from a bond issue, or from other sources. Portions of the funding plan dependent on the approval of E-rate discounts should be clearly identified.

E-rate applicants should note that an adequate budget, while no longer a requirement of the technology plan, is central to separate certifications in the Form 470 (Item 23) and Form 471 (Item 25) that each applicant must submit. The SLD frequently performs “Item 25 Reviews” on Form 471 applications requiring the submission of detailed budgetary information to assure that the applicant has indeed:

secured access to all of the resources, including computers, training, software, maintenance, and electrical connections necessary to make effective use of the services purchased as well as to pay the discounted charges for eligible services.

Plan Approval Process:

A list of certified technology plan approvers is available on the SLD Web site.

Appendices to this Primer: