Why isn’t cybersecurity eligible for E-rate funding? Schools speak up

Schools want to use these funds for next-generation firewalls and intrusion detection/prevention, a new survey suggests. How else would schools benefit if the program was expanded?

The Federal Communication Commission’s E-rate program, which has traditionally been leveraged as a resource for equipping K12 schools and libraries with internet connectivity, ought to be expanded so that schools can chase much-needed cybersecurity upgrades as ransomware attacks and exploitation continue to plague school districts across the country, a new report declares.

The annual “E-rate Trends” report published by Funds for Learning, a consulting firm that helps guide school districts on how to efficiently spend E-rate funding, draws on feedback from more than 2,100 program applicants to paint a picture of the current state of the program.

For the past six years, at least 95% of survey respondents have argued in favor of allowing schools to use E-rate funds for network security and management products. And this year is no exception.

Nearly 50% of respondents said that their organization’s most recent major investment in cybersecurity products or services was made less than one year ago, which should come as no surprise considering last year’s swarm of high-profile ransomware attacks in education, including an attack on the second-largest school district in the country, Los Angeles Unified. Additionally, respondents believe E-rate would help bolster these security investments.

“Cybersecurity solutions should be eligible,” said one respondent in the report. “Since school districts and smaller organizations are typically targeted for ransomware attacks and we have limited budgets already, it would help us protect our students’ information and help maintain operations since it would prevent our network from going down.”

These findings come at a time when cybersecurity attacks targeting K12 school districts are more common than ever. Between 2016 and 2022, there have been at least 1,619 attacks against individual schools or school districts, according to the K12 Security Information Exchange, a nonprofit that aims to help guide and protect K12 schools against cyber threats.

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Survey respondents also outlined what kinds of cybersecurity services should qualify for E-rate funding. Here’s what they said:

  1. Next-generation firewalls: 91%
  2. Intrusion detection/prevention: 88%
  3. Content/malware filtering and DNS security: 87%
  4. Endpoint security: 73%
  5. Cybersecurity education and training: 71%
  6. Multi-factor authentication: 64%

“The results of the 2023 applicant survey make clear the immediate and substantial need for cybersecurity in today’s educational institutions, with E-rate applicants advocating for proactive approaches toward safeguarding our students and library patrons,” Funds for Learning CEO John D. Harrington wrote in the foreword of the report.

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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