Boost Your E-Rate Odds
Tips to follow and mistakes to avoid to increase your school's reimbursement odds and tame paperwork headaches.
Whether your district is making a simple request for a discount on telephone service or submitting a multimillion-dollar application to help offset Internet connection fees, Funds For Learning, an E-rate compliance services firm, offers six tips to boost your odds of reimbursement.
If there is one common attribute among successful E-rate applicants, it is their adherence to the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared, and you will save your district time, money, and frustration when it comes to ensuring E-rate compliance.
Know the Rules.
The E-rate program's rules and regulations are constantly changing, and applicants must have a working knowledge of the rules in order to succeed.
Remember that E-rate program administrators can, and do, request large quantities of detailed information regarding your funding requests. As a result, successful applicants always have detailed document-retention policies and procedures. In addition to storing the E-rate forms themselves, be sure that you document conversations with vendors, correspondence with government reviewers, proof of service delivery, and asset-tracking information.
A large portion of preparedness involves anticipating future tasks. Thus, successful applicants prepare for known E-rate tasks, such as Program Integrity Assurance review, submission of payment paperwork, and post-commitment reviews, well in advance. Remember to proactively check on the status of all E-rate submissions until a final decision is rendered.
Watch for Deadlines.
The E-rate program revolves around a strict set of deadlines. Get to know these deadlines, and strive to get your information in on time-or even early. In many cases, submitting information as early as possible ensures that your application will be processed more quickly, getting much-needed funds to your district sooner.
Successful E-rate applications require the coordination of many departments of a school district-from food services to the business office to information technology. Develop a communication plan so that required information can be easily shared and accessed when needed. Be sure there are multiple staff members who can respond to inquiries from the E-rate program administrator. Finally, remember you are not alone. The E-rate program administrator offers a variety of training resources and information via its website, and many states employ a state E-rate coordinator.
Once you receive funding, rolling out key changes can help make your implementation a success. Schools are teaming document cameras with wireless slates and tablets. These tools, from industry leaders like ELMO, can create mobile whiteboards and free the teacher from having to stand at the front of the classroom. When the tools are used together, the slate works as a remote control for the document camera, and it allows live images to be annotated and recorded. This recording feature enables students who may have been absent to review the missed lessons. ELMO (and others) also offers a cart that provides a complete interactive classroom.
4 E-Rate Mistakes to Avoid
In the world of E-rate, one mistake can lead to a reduction, or even denial, of your funding request. Here's a list of four mistakes to avoid, compiled by Funds For Learning, a leading E-rate compliance services firm.
1. Missing Deadlines: Missing deadlines can result in funding reductions, and in some cases, denial. Each form and application in the process has its own deadline and it is important for applicants to recognize and abide by the due dates.
Solution: Have a general knowledge of the E-rate timeline and carefully review all correspondence from USAC, checking specifically for information requests and any corresponding due dates, and listing these due dates with reminders on a calendar dedicated to E-rate.
2. Violating Competitive Bidding Rules: Applicants must conduct an open and fair competitive bidding process when procuring E-rate services. Violations can take many forms, but some of the most common include:
- Involving service providers in the construction of the Form 470
- Disclosing additional "inside" information to one service provider and not to other interested service providers
- Not waiting 28 days after posting the Form 470 before selecting a service provider or entering into a contract for goods or services
- Failing to evaluate all bids received
Solution: A safe rule to adopt: Make sure your actions don't even give the appearance of a competitive advantage to one service provider over another.
3. Not Being Responsive: Shortly after the close of the filing window, applicants should begin receiving information requests from the program administrator. Failure to respond to these requests in the allotted time frame will result in a reduction or denial of funding.
Solution: Submit all responses and supporting documentation before the deadline assigned to the request. When you have received a request, look at the date on the correspondence and confirm the response date. If you realize that you cannot complete the response by the due date, request an extension from the reviewer before the original deadline. Be mindful of who was listed as the school or library's application contact, as well as the preferred method of contact (e-mail, phone, fax), as this will be the only way requests come in.
4. Not Saving Documentation: Participants are required to retain all E-rate correspondence and records, including, but not limited to, technology plans, bid documents (winning and losing), evaluation documentation, contracts, applications, invoices, and other documents relating to the administration of the Universal Service Fund. Applicants must keep the documentation for five years from last date of service received.
Solution: Simply put, save everything related to E-rate.