School districts write technology plans to cover their technological needs. In order to be approved, a technology plan needs to have the endorsement of an approval committee in some form. The people involved in this process may vary depending on the type of institution. For example, a private school approval committee may include a Board of directors or trustees, the Headmaster, school and department heads, and parents. A public school turns to their Board of Education for local technology plan approval.
It is imperative for each of these groups to be represented in the approval process in order to have an effective technology plan. In a private school setting, the institution does not rely on state or government funding so once the plan is approved internally, they may proceed with implementation. However, public schools count on federal funding such as E-rate so the approval process must move through the local level to the state level before final approval may be met. It is imperative that a public school tech plan meets all state school standards and requirements in order to be approved.
Importance and Universal Service
The E-rate program is an important example of why technology plan approval is so important. E-rate provides discounts to assist most schools and libraries in the United States (and U.S. territories) to obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access.
Funding for E-rate comes from a "Universal Service" fee charged to companies that provide interstate and/or international telecommunications services; this is refered to as the universal service fund (USF). Universal service is the policy of providing access to a baseline level of telecommunications services for all consumers in the United States. These universal service funds are administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) located in Washington, D.C. and E-rate is essentially the Schools and Libraries program.
State Education Agencies (SEA's) are in charge of approving state public school technology plans in order to receive the E-rate discounts. Final approval after the SEA blessing comes from the U.S. Department of Education. Each submitted plan must contain five elements to be considered for approval:
- The plan must establish clear goals and a realistic strategy for using telecommunications and information technology to improve education or library services.
- The plan must have a professional development strategy to ensure that staff know how to use these new technologies to improve education or library services.
- The plan must include an assessment of the telecommunication services, hardware, software, and other services that will be needed to improve education or library services.
- The plan must provide a sufficient budget to acquire and support the non-discounted elements of the plan: the hardware, software, professional development and other services that will be needed to implement the strategy.
- The plan must include an evaluation process that enables the school or library to monitor progress toward the specified goals and make mid-course corrections in response to new developments and opportunities and they arise.
Below are two examples of rubrics that evaluate E-rate compliance for approval.
- Rubric from Montana: http://www.opi.state.mt.us/pdf/erate/TechPlanDistrict.pdf
- Rubric from New York: http://docspot.cnyric.org/CNYRIC/PublicDocs/ITD/ERate%20Tech%20Plan%20Rubric.pdf
As you can see, both rubrics focus on the elements that are imperative to technolgy plan approval. The plan should be designed around these elements to avoid rejection.
Key Elements for Approval Summary
Most of these are already required to become approved for the E-rate discount, however, these key elements should be included in any complete technology plan to ensure the plan does become approved by the deciding parties. Leaving these items out may delay or hinder the ultimate approval of the plan. Elements that will help guarantee tech plan approval include:
- Stating a clear beginning and end date
- Listing clear goals and a realistic strategy to achieve them
- Addressing professional development
- Including a technological needs assessment
- Providing a realistic and thorough budget
- Including an evaluation process
A successful technology plan should be designed while keeping the ultimate approval process in mind to ensure crucial elements are not left out.