E-Rate Also an Adult Education Issue

An E-Rate increase has gathered some momentum over the last several months. The White House recently joined the effort by issuing a proposal (“ConnectED”) that basically outlines a vision for expanded connectivity powered by new E-Rate funds (in a nutshell: “to have 99% of American students connected to broadband Internet within five years”). More information here.

E-Rate is an interesting issue from a government education spending point of view because it’s not a legislative matter (that is, it doesn’t require Congress to act)—it only requires FCC approval.

Most of the attention on E-Rate is focused on K-12 schools, but it’s worth keeping an eye on from an adult education policy perspective as well, because public libraries are covered by the program. Faster/better connectivity at public libraries provides a benefit to adult leaners—particularly those enrolled in library-based adult education programs, of course, but also self-studiers (a population that adult education policy folks often forget about—a story for another day), or any learner enrolled in a program anywhere who uses their local public library for supplementary study outside of class. Back in June, ALA issued statement in support of the administration’s ConnectEd proposal that noted the role that library broadband connectivity plays in adult education:

“At any given point in the day a library can enable: a student live-chatting with an online tutor for homework help, a parent communicating with his child’s teacher via the online course management system, a high school student taking an Advanced Placement course online, a small class taking an online GED training coursestudents of all ages participating in real-time distance learning and a professional completing a recertification course. These are just a few of the Internet-based services the E-rate program helps support in America’s libraries. Virtually all public libraries provide no-fee access to computers and the Internet, including WiFi.” (my emphasis)

What would be even better, of course, would be an E-Rate program that allowed community-based adult education programs to apply for the discount as well as schools and libraries.