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Timing of Agreements
for Eligible E-rate Services
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Introduction
Many school districts contract for services on a fiscal school year basis. Typically, they wait until late spring, after budget approval, to sign new or renewed agreements for the next year. Internet access service agreements, in particular, are often handled this way.
Warning: Waiting to sign agreements until the spring is a sure way to lose future E-rate funding. To be eligible for discounts, agreements for the funding period must be in place and listed in a Form 471 filed on or before the end of the window period.
This section discusses a simple approach, albeit one that will probably require board approval, which would permit E-rate agreements for the next fiscal year to be signed before budget approval and in time for incorporation into the E-rate application window. For completeness, the section also summarizes other contract timing issues involving both the current and future funding periods.
Background
There are three key principles that must be adhered to when applying for discounts on eligible E-rate services.
  1. All new requirements for eligible services must be posted on the SLD web site (via Form 470) for at least 28 days before a valid contract can be signed.
  2. All services on which discounts are being requested (via Form 471) must be covered by a valid contract or tariff for the applicable funding period; and
  3. Form 471 must be filed within an application window that normally runs from early November to early February.
When the FCC and SLC changed the E-rate funding period from a calendar to a school year basis, a stated reason was to align the funding cycle with the schools' normal budget cycle. While the funding cycle is now aligned, the application cycle is not.
Unless already covered under a pre-existing contract, agreements for eligible E-rate services, whether they are for one-time equipment purchases or for ongoing monthly service arrangements, must meet the Form 470 posting, the contract signing, and the Form 471 listing criteria. [It is important to note that, for E-rate purposes, an existing contract for the current year cannot be simply extended into the next year unless the extension requirement is posted and a formal extension is signed.]
Assuming that only applications filed within the window period stand a chance of being funded next year, new or extended agreements cannot be signed any later than early February. Without careful planning, many schools and libraries will be unable to sign new (or to-be-extended) agreements in time to meet the E-rate filing window deadline. This could mean the loss of discounts on otherwise eligible service agreements, such as for Internet access, that are typically renewed at the end of each fiscal year.
It is important to determine what new or extended services will be needed next year before the E-rate window opens this fall. After that, it is necessary to: (a) file a list of requirements needed on a Form 470; (b) negotiate with vendors; (c) wait until the Form 470 has been posted for 28 days to sign the necessary agreements; and then (d) file a list of valid agreements on a Form 471 before the end of the window period in early February.
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