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FCC Confirmed Third ECF Filing Window

On March 23, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a third application filing window to award no less than $1 billion in Emergency Connectivity Fund support. The third ECF application filing window opens on April 28, 2022, and closes on May 13, 2022. 

This third application filing window provides an opportunity for eligible schools and libraries to submit requests for money to buy eligible equipment and services between July 1, 2022, and December 31, 2023. The FCC says that given past demand, its third application filing window will probably be the last opportunity for schools and libraries to request funding before the remaining Emergency Connectivity Funds have all been allocated. 

 

 

Get Your ECF Green While There’s Still Time

During this current wave of digital transformation across K-12, the homework gap is a high-stakes problem that is central to the greater challenge of closing the widening chasm between children who develop digital fluency at a young age and those who are often left behind due to school and family budgetary limitations.

Since taking flight in June 2021, the Emergency Connectivity Fund has committed nearly $4.69 billion in federal taxpayer dollars. The result? More than 12.5 million students now have access to broadband connections and educational technology (EdTech) equipment. Schools and libraries across the U.S. benefit from this latest round of federal funding, which includes free connected devices and broadband connections for students in Alaska, California, central Maine, Puerto Rico, and South Carolina. So far, the ECF program has connected more than 12.5 million students across the U.S. 

 

 

student raising his hand on chromebookHow to Get Your ECF Green Growing

Need expert guidance in taking advantage of ECF money for an upcoming EdTech upgrade or expansion? Bluum’s grant money expert, Dr. Don Gemeinhardt talked with us about how to capitalize on the Emergency Connectivity Fund in 2022. Dr. Gemeinhardt answers some of the most Frequently Asked Questions so you can maximize your time spent securing ECF money for your educators and learners. 

 

In a nutshell, what is the ECF?

The FCC's Emergency Connectivity Fund is a $7.17 billion program that helped schools and libraries across the U.S. provide the tools and services their communities needed for remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis period. Now that students and teachers are back in classrooms together again, the ECF continues providing relief to millions of students, school faculty and staff, and library patrons to address learning loss and help students who fell behind to catch up by using digital learning tools during and outside of school. ECF also helps close the Homework Gap for students who currently lack necessary internet access or the devices they need to connect to classrooms.

 

What can educators use ECF money to buy?

Emergency connectivity funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework that’s done using take-home computing devices, ensuring students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education. ECF money also helps with efforts to address pandemic-driven learning loss by putting computer devices into the hands of studentsdevices that can be preloaded with dynamic educational content. Eligible schools and libraries that participate in the ECF Program will receive money for:

  • Reasonably priced laptop and tablet computers
  • Wi-Fi hotspot gear, modems and routers
  • Broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use by students, school faculty and staff, and library patrons
The ECF is part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. Total commitments to date have funded more than 10 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections. A recent round of funding includes over $33 million in commitments from Window 1 applications and nearly $31 million in commitments from Window 2 applications. More details about which schools and libraries have received funding commitments can be found at fcc.gov/emergency-connectivity-fund, including a downloadable list. 

 

What is the ECF Funding Year Deadline Extension?

The agency’s order extends the service delivery deadline for internet service and equipment funding requests submitted in ECF Funding Year 2021 from June 30, 2022, to June 30, 2023. Ongoing delays in funding commitments, post-commitment reviews, and equipment availability drove the FCC’s decision to extend the deadline. Now applicants can still receive ECF money for the 12 months of service committed. Applicants have until June 30, 2023, to receive ECF equipment. However, additional funding will not be added to your FY 2021 ECF requests. You can find more information and apply online at emergencyconnectivityfund.org. 

 

What’s the source of uncertainty in renewing 1:1 devices through ECF?

One of the concerns about 1:1 is how we justify the “end-of-life statement” for an outdated computing device to replace it. That timing decision is up to the educators. As the buyers, educators choose when to request funding to replace a fleet of aging devices. The 1:1 device lifecycle could fit the typical span of three to five years, but it also could apply to the software applications you want to use beyond the computer’s capability. With software, the teachers and school IT administrators are the users, the people who determine 1:1 device replacement timing. In education, this is usually the head of technology for the district, school, college, or university. 

The other part of the confusion over eligibility for 1:1 institutions stems from devices being assigned to either an individual or to a classroom or other space like a gym or library. A 1:1 school may opt to use the older devices in a program that may not assign devices to a student but instead to a learning program that may keep them in a class as the platform. There are a lot of reasons that devices stay in use – you could even expand device use to students who may never have used one in the past. Eventually, replacements are necessary. Devices will age out of compatibility with an evolving IT-AV ecosystem. Fortunately, the FCC expanded the application window as noted above.

Devices assigned to individual students can be used by that student until the new device funded through ECF arrives. That older device can then be used for other projects if no student has back-ups at any time. Other uses can be found for the old device that is replaced in the 1:1 fleet. 

 

Do ECF applicants need to survey their schools and parents to get an exact number of needed devices? 

This is right off the FCC’s ECF page, which says it all: each school determines what they want to survey and determines their needs. The parents have input, but the schools are the Subject Matter Experts. It is nice for educators to have parental feedback but not required. 

 

 

lifestyle-bluum-teacher-helping-kids-laptops-socialFive Common ECF Misconceptions

The FCC’s website provides extensive resources, including documents explaining How to Apply, a guide to getting started, ECF FAQ, and Common Misconceptions available as a downloadable PDF(Español).

After successfully coaching many schools and districts on how to apply for ECF Funding during Rounds 1 and 2, Bluum’s Grant Advisor, Dr. Don Gemeinhardt, shares some additional misconceptions and clarifications to help guide you through the next application period.

 

Misconception #1: Devices past their Automatic Update Expiration (AUE) dates don't qualify for replacement using ECF.

The “end of life” determination for each device is best made by the purchasing institution because their IT teams understand the requirements needed by the devices. The ordering organization is the most qualified to know if the needed capability is there.

The Auto Update Expiration is another example of the end of life for several reasons. The security of the device itself is compromised beyond the AUE. Updates on various applications within the device also end. As software applications change from one version to the next, they eventually become incompatible and do not work with an older version or another process, platform or application. All are reasons for replacement. While AUE dates are imposed by the device makers, the practice has become universal, so it tends to be looked at as a standard that helps ensure devices are up-to-date.  

It's important to note that the ECF will only cover $400.00 per device, and updated apps can be part of that cost. ECF will not pay for an individual software application. It must be something installed on the device as part of the single device, but not higher than $400.00 

 

Misconception #2: Fear of an audit

An audit should not be a concern if the devices stay under $400.00 as the price paid by ECF. The ECF rules are very straightforward, making audits unlikely if you follow the simple rules. No student can have a spare device paid for with ECF money. Other devices can be ordered with ECF money to improve connectivity. Finally, the devices purchased for the student or faculty must be under $400 per device. Any added costs above that amount can be captured in a separate price quote that clearly shows the institution is paying for all other costs related to the device above the allowed $400.

Be sure that when you receive the new devices you do truly replace them and annotate that for recordkeeping. Your records should also indicate how you are going to dispose of the older devices. In some cases, they can be given to some other cause or even repurposed on some special project, but they cannot go to the same student again. 

In any case, keep meticulous records, including purchase orders, invoices and receipts. Keep a file folder containing all your correspondence with ECF staff, and make sure you have a Project Manager designated to lead this critical effort. Also, keep all your e-rate information. Most schools house their ECF file in the IT division, but this critical record can be owned by other administrators or educators. The key to success is making sure a team member has ownership through the life of the ECF effort and knows what is going on in each stage.

 

Misconception #3: Districts and schools that are already 1:1 can’t get devices through ECF.

ECF money can be used for new devices if the upgrade is documented in the ECF process. When new devices come in, handlers must document the exchange and secure or track the older devices if they are repurposed. 

 

Misconception #4: Devices don’t qualify if they are not take-home devices.

Devices must be portable, like a laptop or tablet computer, but they can be left at school for security reasons, not including devices made available for others to use after school. While part of the ECF says it is “Helping Schools and Libraries Close the Homework Gap, the real question here is whether the devices can be carried around school from class to classthey just cannot be desktop-only or attached in some way that renders them stationary as opposed to mobile.

 

Misconception #5: Our kids are not remote anymore, so we’re not sure if ECF applies.

ECF money can be used for connected learning apart from the pandemic. While Covid-19 funding was intended to address the immediate dangers of the pandemic by providing students with connectivity at home and wherever they are, the long-term challenge here is moving students into the current level of technology that can most efficiently empower them to learn, and that requires both internet access and a computing device. 

Simply having a computer doesn’t mean your connectivity problem is solved. Internet access in the U.S. is close to 90% nationwide on average, but some poor urban and rural areas are closer to 80%. That 8 in 10 figure is including smartphones, so when you count home internet access, only about 53% of U.S. households had “high connectivity” access, according to the current U.S. Census. The bottom line is that ECF money can be used for internet access and the devices that won’t do much without that access.

 

 

 

Interested in learning more about empowering your learners to thrive with new hardware and software purchased through the ECF Program?

 

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Dr. Don Gemeinhardt, Bluum Grants and Funding Advisor

Don Gemeinhardt, Ed.D has extensive experience and expertise in successfully applying for education and training grants and submitting winning proposals. Dr. Gemeinhardt has hands-on knowledge of project proposal development in several grant areas, from STEM and advanced learning methods to student safety and security. His experience includes developing educational training tools and conducting applied research and simulation efforts. His roles included Principal Investigator, Senior Project Manager, and Director and Division Lead. Dr. Gemeinhardt, or “Dr. G,” as his students still call him, has also held a variety of teaching positions, including a full range of adult education and curriculum developer roles for higher education institutions.