E-rate coordinator highlights Idaho's broadband push


Todd Lawrence wears many hats as coordinator for education technology services for the Idaho Department of Education.

Among them is the job as the state’s E-rate coordinator to assist Idaho’s roughly 150 school districts take advantage of federally available funds to expand school broadband connections.

EdScoop spoke with Lawrence at the most recent State Education Technology Directors Association annual leadership summit about those efforts and other measures the state is taking to advance the use of technology in its schools.

While E-rate offers a great benefit to school districts in Idaho and across the country, “it is still a complicated process and program,” Lawrence says.

A majority of the state’s districts are in poverty areas, by E-rate definitions, he explained, so his role is crucial in securing E-rate funds where schools can’t otherwise afford someone to coordinate the work involved in applying for the funds.

Fortunately, districts are able to take advantage of “legislative dollars set aside for the non-E-rate portion [of networking expenses] so districts can get a net-zero cost for broadband,” he said.

Education officials in Idaho, as in many states, continue to wrestle with how best to close the homework gap, helping students get online from home for instance by installing Wi-Fi hotspots on school buses.

“It’s definitely an area we are exploring in terms of expanding that kind of connectivity, but nothing has grabbed a foothold yet,” he says.

One technology that has, according to Lawrence, is Google Apps for Education. “We do have a very strong Google Apps for Education community,” he said, as well as an active Idaho education technology association that meets monthly to keep abreast of technology developments.

The association has helped school IT directors earn the ear of the state’s superintendent and the attention of state legislators, he says.