Several federal funds are available to help schools get key remote learning tools to their students. Once you have the money, though, it can be difficult to choose the right equipment to get students online, especially in rural areas.

This guide will help you understand what funds are available for remote learning tools, what you can purchase with them, and how to pick network equipment that meets the needs of all students without burdening school staff.

What Education Technology Grants are Available?

These are the main COVID relief funds that are currently available for purchasing remote learning tools and services.

  • ECF. The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) was created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), provided $7.17 billion in COVID-19 relief funding for remote schooling tools. This fund had a deadline of August 13, 2021 and can be used for equipment and service purchases through June 30, 2022.
  • ESSER II. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding (ESSER) fund was created under the CARES act and was updated in December of 2020 to include an additional $54.3 billion. ESSER is allotted for home connectivity solutions such as hardware, software, and internet access. The ESSER fund is distributed by state educational agencies, so the application requirements vary between states. The deadline for using the funds is September 30, 2022.
  • ESSER III. The latest modification to the ESSER fund, ESSER III, adds $122 billion to the fund. The deadline for these funds is September 30, 2023.

What Can You Buy With the Funds?

Students need two things for remote learning: a computer and a way to connect to the internet. ECF funds allow for laptop and tablet computers. These funds can also be used for broadband internet service and several network connectivity solutions, including modems, routers, and Wi-Fi hotspots.

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Choosing Network Equipment for Remote Learning

There are many sources for finding appropriate laptops or tablets, but finding the best network solutions can be more difficult, especially for rural students.

1. Accommodating Rural Students

Rural families often have few if any broadband service options. In the future, Starlink and 5G should ease this problem. For now, many users end up turning to Wi-Fi hotspots that rely on mobile data networks.

These hotspots come with their own limitations. First, they require a mobile data signal, which isn’t always available in rural homes. Second, hotspots often have a shorter maximum range than Wi-Fi routers, and they may have a hard time getting signals through obstructions like walls. Finally, hotspots typically only handle 3–5 active devices. These factors can cause problems for large, rural families.

Routers do not have these same limitations, but they don’t generally work with mobile data networks. Software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) like SimpleWAN provide a convenient alternative to hotspots, with many of the advantages of routers and the ability to integrate with a variety of networks, including 4G and 5G.

2. Simplifying Troubleshooting

Fixing network errors is always harder when the equipment is spread across many students’ homes. You want to do everything you can to simplify the process, and that means buying uniform equipment when possible.

When students are using a hodgepodge of carrier-provided routers and hotspots, your staff needs to be familiar with troubleshooting methods specific to each brand and model.

If all of your students are using the same network equipment, your staff will become familiar with their specific technical issues. They can develop standard operating procedures and a knowledge base to quickly and reliably solve many of the most common problems.

3. Maintaining CIPA Compliance

Some of these grants, including the ECF, require that recipients maintain Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) compliance. CIPA requires that schools and libraries have in place protections to prevent children from accessing obscene or harmful materials over the internet.

Some hotspots can be purchased pre-configured with CIPA compliance through third-party filtering services. The upside is that these hotspots automatically maintain compliance. The downside, though, is that the school often has little or no ability to modify the filters. If students need access to an incorrectly filtered site, the school staff may not be able to help. Custom content filtering like that available with SimpleWAN provides a more universal solution.

Remote Learning Made Better

Making the most of COVID-19 remote learning funds means picking the best tools, including network equipment. These tools should ease the burden on school staff and maximize the learning potential of students.

Schedule a demo to discover how SimpleWAN can offer an easy-to-use, uniform, CIPA-compliant networking solution that fits the needs of all of your students.

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