By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer
The federal government will pick up a portion of the tab for Portales schools’ Internet and telephone services again this year — and that could save the district tens of thousands of dollars.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., recently announced the potential award from the federal E-Rate program. The news release said 39 New Mexico school districts qualify for the funds.
The E-Rate program was established as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to allow schools and libraries to afford the costs of providing Internet service, the news release said.
Awards are based on household income levels of students in the community, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s Web site. Funding comes from the federal Universal Service Fund, which is collected through a tax on phone and Internet bills. Schools are reimbursed from 20 to 90 percent of their costs, according to the Web site.
Portales could receive a maximum of $171,000, Bingaman’s news release said, though the actual amount will not be determined until next summer.
Portales schools Superintendent James Holloway said because of a low average household income in Portales, the school district is able to get funding.
“The more children you have below the poverty level, the higher the eligibility for the money,” Holloway said.
But the amount of reimbursement depends on numerous factors.
“I don’t want to rely on it too much, because the percentage of funding can change with the amount of federal money available,” Holloway said.
Joy Griffith, office manager/personal computer technician for Portales schools, said she has been helping in the application process for the grant for the last four years.
Last year, she said Portales was approved for about $117,000 through the E-Rate program, but ultimately was reimbursed for $83,726.
“During the application process, E-Rate officials look at our estimations and approve the application,” Griffith said. “But if you overestimate too much, they may not approve the application.”
Griffith said Portales school officials initially pay for their Internet and phone services, then she sends the amount paid to E-Rate officials for potential reimbursement..
The school’s providers are Qwest, Yucca Telecommunications, Plateau and NTS Communications.
The funds are much needed in light of school budget issues, Holloway said.
“It gives us a break,” Holloway said. “The federal money pays for the services and we can use the money we would have spent on Internet service on new equipment and upgrading our technology.”
Griffith said Internet service is available to all Portales public school students.