Rural students deserve 21st-century education

[Commentary] Schools in rural areas routinely get less funding per student than those in wealthier, urban areas. For example, E-Rate distributes to students in Washington, DC, roughly three times the amount that Kansas students receive -- even though our nation’s capital has a much larger tax base and broadband is cheaper to deploy there than in rural Kansas.

Indeed, small Kansas towns from Colby to Coffeyville and Elkhart to Seneca tend to get less money than large school districts with more resources.

These disparities undermine E-Rate’s core mission of giving rural schools the same technological tools as their urban and suburban counterparts. One reason for this unfair distribution of funding is the complex E-Rate application process.

To apply for E-Rate funds, schools must complete a seven-step process with six application forms spanning 17 pages -- just for basic service. If a school wants to invest in a technology the federal government does not consider a priority, additional paperwork is required. Moreover, schools are required to sign service contracts months before the school year begins, and possibly years before the school knows if E-Rate funding will even be available to offset the cost of those services.

All of this means that it is expensive and burdensome to apply. E-Rate also doesn’t give schools a budget. That means urban schools at the front of the line often get as much money as they want while many rural schools at the back of the line must make do with what is left.

The result is some schools using E-Rate to subsidize BlackBerrys for administrators while other schools can’t even get funding for classroom Wi-Fi. That’s not right. To fulfill E-Rate’s promise to all of our students, we must cut the bureaucracy and refocus the program on our children’s needs. We must create a student-centered E-Rate program.

Sen Jerry Moran and Ajit Pai: Rural students deserve 21st-century education