There are multi-step plans for losing weight, quitting smoking or becoming a better person, but courtesy of Trillion, there’s now a 12-step program for getting E-Rate money for your school to help pay for computers, networking and communications gear. The Federal E-Rate program has paid out more than $30 billion to subsidize the digitization of thousands of schools, libraries and facilities, but nobody who’s ever wrestled with the infamous Forms 470, 471 472 or 486 needed to participate would say it’s easy. The program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, and the paperwork is so complicated that it can make most feel like deer paralyzed in the headlights of an oncoming car.
The program is so complex that it’s a good idea to dedicate E-Rate tasks to one person at the school or district. Here’re the top things to think about when requesting E-Rate money. Remember, any one of them can cause your request to be rejected or to sit on someone’s desk for an eternity:
• Form 470 must refer to the district’s technology plan. Don’t have one? Time to start working on a plan and make sure its goals mesh with your E-Rate requests.
• If your state, county or locality requires competitive bidding and public announcement for the project, that’s the way it has to be. Don’t try and shortcut it by announcing a vendor.
• Be sure to notify bidders if they’ve been disqualified from the competition with the reason why or the E-Rate money might be held up.
• Requests for proposals on Form 470 need to be available for 28 days.
• Be patient and wait the full 28-days before signing a contract for the project.
• Be specific and include all the relevant documentation when trying to get E-Rate funds. Plus, keep an archive of the documentation and forms for at least five years in case your district’s request is audited.
• Make sure that your Form 470 refers to the correct service category. If not, it will likely confuse the reviewers.
• Be sure to correctly refer to the right Form 470 when listing the vendor, payment amounts on the Block 5 section of the Form 471.
• I know it sounds odd, but make sure that administrative, sports and maintenance facilities cited on Block 4 of Form 471 detail district data on students as well as the percentage of students who get free or subsidized lunches at school.
• Include budget documentation because reviewers are looking to see if the district can pay for its portion of the project’s cost.
• If projects that can be squeezed into a single year aren’t complicated enough, for multi-year contracts, you’ll need to fill out a Form 470 for the first year and an additional Form 471 for the remaining years. Make sure it references the original Form 470 or the request will languish.
• Send in the forms on time or you’ll miss the E-Rate boat. The current window closes on February 2.
Austin, TX based Trillion specializes in creating networks and voice over IP phone systems for schools that are paid for with E-Rate money. The full report requires that you register.