Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Federal Aid Links Schools Internet Subsidy Favors Atlanta

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Federal Aid Links Schools Internet Subsidy Favors Atlanta

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- With a keen eye on emerging technologies, a consortium of Georgia school systems emerged with a $28.8 million federal grant during the first year of a new program to provide cheap Internet hookups for schools and libraries.

The award to Atlanta's Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency eclipses the total grants given to schools and libraries in 34 states. And it marks the regional agency as a national pioneer in the integration of technology into public education.

"What we are doing is looking at the future of education," said Ed Kramer, the technology guru who spearheaded the agency's application. "The system that we're installing takes into account that within the next five years, we expect there will be a laptop or desktop computer on every desk in every classroom. We have to be set to provide content to those classrooms and students. This is a system that will provide that functionally into the next century."

The $28.8 million represents the largest chunk of the $77.8 million awarded to Georgia schools and libraries during the first year of the politically charged E-rate program, a centerpiece of President Clinton's second-term goal of wiring all the nation's schools to the Internet by 2000.

The Georgia grants range from MRESA's $28.8 million to $450 for the Jones County Branch Library. The state Department of Education received $6.5 million, and the state's Office of Public Library Services received $3.1 million.

Other major grants awarded to Georgia applications include $6.2 million to the Atlanta Public Schools; $2.5 million to the Bulloch County School District; and $2 million each to the DeKalb County and Clayton County school districts.

E-rate grants are funded by fees the Federal Communications Commission imposes on telecommunications companies, which pass them on to customers in the form of higher phone bills. Some lawmakers, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Marietta, have labeled the fees a tax and have fought to block them.

Opposition from Congress and consumer groups prompted the FCC last year to scale back the program. Instead of providing $2.25 billion in grants during the first year, as originally planned, the commission limited the awards to $1.275 billion.

E-rate grants provide schools and libraries with subsidies of 20 percent to 90 percent on telecommunications equipment and services, such as Internet hookups. The biggest discounts go to the poorest schools, and the FCC took steps last year to ensure that those schools got priority for the first round of money.

That was part of the reason for the Atlanta agency's success. Kramer said the agency, which represents 14 metro Atlanta school systems, based its initial grant application on its 315 poorest schools, those eligible for subsidies amounting to 70 percent to 90 percent of the total project costs.

"It was our role to harness as much of this funding as possible for our school systems and use it," he said.

Kramer said the school systems will add $4. …

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