E-Rate Is Another Failed Big Government Program, Why Not Double Down?

Among the silver bullets loaded into the education chamber has been, for many years, Internet access for schools. In the mid-1990s federal officials including President Bill Clinton, Internet inventor Al Gore, and Cool-Idea Guy Newt Gingrich all touted the educational benefits that were certain to flow from connecting every classroom to the worldwide web. This bipartisan enthusiasm led to the E-Rate program, enacted in 1996 as part of the Telecommunications Act. Paid for with a tax on long-distance telephone service, E-Rate provides subsidies for schools to help them access broadband service.

Twenty years and $40 billion later, how’s that working out? According to a recent study from Clemson University (Go Tigers!) and the Technology Policy Institute, not particularly well. The researchers analyzed data from North Carolina schools and found that the educational benefits of increasing Internet connections are approximately zero. In fact, there’s a small but statistically significant decrease in student achievement in schools that have used E-Rate funds to improve broadband access.

This E-Rate study was prompted by President Obama’s 2013 citation of the Mooresville, NC, school district as a success story – when computer facilities were upgraded, according to the President, student achievement soared. He thus proposed expanding the E-Rate budget from $2.25 billion to $4 billion a year. So the researchers gathered data from all N.C. public schools from 2000 to 2013 and analyzed if and how SAT scores in math and verbal reasoning changed as schools received E-Rate funding. They discovered, as researcher Dr. Thomas Hazlett reported, that “the more E-Rate funding a school received, the worse its students performed.”

According to Hazlett, this finding is consistent with previous studies. Continue Reading