e-Rate at 10: Irregularities stopped, Digital Divide progress made

Thanks to e-Rate, low-income schools have most of the communications equipment and software they need. 'Without e-Rate, no closing of achievement gap,' NEA boss says.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

A new report on the efficacy of the federal e-Rate program - the scandal-ridden $2.25 billion program that provides discounts of telecommunications services, Internet access and internal networking to low-income public and private schools and public libraries - has been successful in boosting communications tools to support student achievement, reports eSchool News

Despite the progress, there is still work to do, states "e-Rate: 10 Years of Connecting Kids and Community." As new online resources emerge, schools and libraries keep expanding to ensure access to digital resources.

The good news is that 100 percent of public libraries now provide free Internet access to communities, and much of the credit goes to the federal e-Rate program. The program has increased the number of public-school classrooms with Internet access from 14 percent in 1996 to 95 percent in 2005.

The report says that after 10 years of e-Rate support, more than 90 percent of classrooms in rural, high-minority and low-income school districts now have Internet connections, allowing them to leverage modern communications tools to support student achievement. An additional 2,800 private schools also have received support from e-Rate.

To publicize the reports' findings, educational organizations and various members of Congress formed a panel to discuss e-Rate's future.

"I assure you, without e-Rate there will be no closing of the achievement gap," said panel member John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association. "e-Rate has changed the public schools. You don't have a great public school without having the right tools and resources--[and] e-Rate is that resource to help sustain kids in 21st-century learning."
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