City schools get tech grant

The Baltimore Sun

The federal government is awarding the Baltimore school system $7.7 million through its E-Rate program, which provides discounts on technology to poor schools and libraries.

It will be the city school system's first E-Rate award since the 2002-2003 school year. The federal government froze funds after that year as a result of an audit and sought to take back $2.5 million that the audit found was misspent.

Howard Steptoe, the school system's technology officer, said the system has not been informed whether it will have to give back any of that money. But as a result of a corrective action plan the system submitted last winter, the freeze on funds was lifted.

Now, the city schools have been granted more than half of the total $13 million statewide award from the federal Schools and Libraries Program. Funded by government fees on consumers' telephone bills, the E-rate program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Co. for the Federal Communications Commission.

"It's a great achievement for the Baltimore City public schools," Steptoe said.

The money the system will receive is earmarked to provide telecommunications, Internet access and distance learning technology for the upcoming school year.

Schools may receive discounts of up to 90 percent on technological services and equipment, based on the percentage of their students who receive free and reduced-price lunches, a widely used indicator of poverty. Because many Baltimore schools have a high percentage of students receiving subsidized lunches, the city school system is eligible for millions of dollars in discounts.

In December, the city school board gave a consultant, Funds for Learning, a three-year, $267,000 contract to help the system resolve the problems noted in the audit and comply with E-Rate's regulations in the future.

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