Idaho districts overcome connectivity challenges with federal, state funds

Districts in Idaho are taking advantage of federal and state funds to get high-speed internet access to students, according to Todd Lawrence, E-rate coordinator at the Idaho State Department of Education.

School broadband connection is particularly tricky in a state like Idaho, where some rural districts only enroll about a dozen students and where the sheer size and geography of the state creates connectivity challenges.

But Lawrence and his colleagues at the state education department have found that by helping districts access funding for broadband technology, those hurdles are not insurmountable.

For his team, it means helping school administrators with E-rate applications — from filling out each line correctly to filing the forms and meeting the deadlines. The work is important to Lawrence, he says, because he’s seen how valuable broadband access can be.

“I believe every school should try to take advantage of the federal dollars on the E-rate side,” Lawrence says in an interview with EdScoop TV during a gathering of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), of which he is the chairman.

And to help offset some of the costs that go uncovered after E-rate dollars are applied, states should appropriate some funds for their districts as well, Lawrence says.

“In most cases, it’s a smaller amount of the portion, but it is still of vital importance,” he says.

Lawrence also says that the Idaho education department is looking at ways to expand distance learning opportunities across the state. In a distance learning model, the geographic challenges are “not a concern because a lot of it is done digitally, or virtually,” he says, adding that districts are excited and already “grabbing on to” the idea.