National Writing Project

E-Rate Celebrates Ten Years

By: NWP Staff
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 11, No. 2
Date: 2006

Summary: The E-Rate legislation passed in 1996, which provides funding to bring affordable access to the Internet to schools and libraries, helps schools prepare students for the twenty-first century.

 

"This is critically important in order to successfully prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century," commented Richard Riley, then U.S. Secretary of Education, in 1999. He was speaking of the E-Rate legislation, passed by a bipartisan congressional majority in 1996.

The funding has been particularly useful in schools and libraries in rural and inner-city areas.

Now commemorating a tenth birthday, the E-Rate legislation, originally spearheaded by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), provides $2.25 billion annually to bring affordable access to telecommunications services for all eligible public and private schools and public libraries. The funding has been particularly useful in schools and libraries in rural and inner-city areas. While E-Rate funds are not available for the purchase of hardware, schools can receive discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent to pay for their hookups to the cyberspace world. Those schools with the highest percentage of students in the free and reduced-price lunch program receive the largest discounts.

When Riley made his 1999 appraisal he was looking back in time to 1994 when, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) only 3 percent of "instructional rooms"—that is, classrooms, computer labs, school libraries, and media centers—had Internet access. By 2005—nine years after E-Rate legislation—93 percent of public school classrooms were said to have Internet access.

It is access to the Internet—to the possibilities for virtually instant worldwide communication—as well as to an emerging set of Web-based read/write tools, that lie behind these NWP accounts about emails from Georgia, digital stories from Maine, blogs and podcasts from Utah and New York. With the help of the E-Rate our students' voices are out in the world.

For more on the E-Rate, see www.fcc.gov/learnnet.

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