Jul 05 2024

How Schools Can Increase Their Chances of Winning Federal Cybersecurity Funding

The application window for the Federal Communications Commission’s $200 million cybersecurity pilot could open soon.

In the grand scheme of things, $200 million over the course of three years to address cybersecurity in K–12 doesn’t seem like much. However, that is what the Federal Communications Commission is offering as part of its Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program, which was approved in June.

This pilot is a step up from what the FCC already provides through its E-rate program, which covers only basic firewalls and support services to configure them. The FCC said as much when it announced the program in November, noting in the Federal Register, “It is clear that the E-Rate program alone cannot fully address the K–12 schools’ and libraries’ cyber concerns and protect their broadband networks and data from cyberthreats and attacks.”

This new program is a response to years of lobbying from K–12 groups for more federal funding to help stem the tide of cyberattacks facing schools. Additional funding through this program will help the FCC determine the future of cybersecurity funding.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement describing the pilot program, “Ultimately, we want to learn from this effort, identify how to get the balance right and provide our federal, state and local government partners with actionable data about the most effective and coordinated way to address this growing problem.”

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Due to the limited amount of funding available through the pilot, only a small number of schools will be accepted. There is limited information about when the application window will open. Schools “can apply to participate in the Pilot Program through a two-part process. The FCC expects to initiate this process by opening a Pilot Program application window this Fall,” notes the agency’s website.

To increase their chances of making it into the pilot, schools should have everything prepared to start the application process.

Get Your Cybersecurity House in Order

It’s important that schools and libraries interested in getting this funding start planning now. The application requires schools to share their “experience with cybersecurity matters; whether they expect to implement cybersecurity recommended best practices; and their current or expected use of free or low-cost federal resources.” They will also need to provide detailed information about how they plan to use funds for cybersecurity, including the goals they plan to achieve, the services and equipment they plan to purchase, and the cybersecurity risks they plan to address. Those selected to participate will then purchase their cybersecurity services and equipment, which will be reimbursed through the program.

Because this pilot program is an opportunity for the FCC to learn more about K–12 cybersecurity needs, it’s important for schools to understand their own cybersecurity environments and be able to explain how they manage them.

Do you know everything that you use for your current cybersecurity solutions? Would you be able to explain what you have, what you need, when you need it, and how it’s being or will be managed?

The application for this program will be comprehensive, similar to the E-rate process, so having a cybersecurity plan will be useful for completing the application. If you don’t have a cybersecurity plan, now is the time to create one. If you have one and haven’t updated it in a while, now is the time to do that.

DISCOVER: Schools must focus on people, processes and technology in cybersecurity.

Can You Adequately Track and Report Your Cybersecurity Activities?

As part of this process, schools and libraries will also need a sense of what cybersecurity products or services they plan to purchase through the program. To help the program meet its core goal, schools will need a way to track and report how these tools, once purchased, impact cyber incidents in a positive or negative way.

Before applying, it would be best to evaluate your internal resources to see whether your school will be able to adequately report the results of your purchases. If you don’t have adequate reporting resources in-house, it might be wise to seek outside support.

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Explore Multiple Avenues of Support to Strengthen Your Application

The pilot will certainly benefit from having schools of all sizes and in all locations. However, for smaller schools or those with fewer internal resources, applying for this program could be challenging.

Such schools should consider engaging outside support. Advocacy organizations such as  the Consortium for School Networking or the State Educational Technology Directors Association can help point you in the right direction. Also, check with your state’s E-rate coordinator. There are many schools that use E-rate consultants, and doing so might be useful for this program as well. As part of the application process, you can also reach out to your CDW account manager to discuss improving your cybersecurity environment or learning more about E-rate funding in general.

While this pilot program is one small step for K–12, it’s an important one in the journey toward better funding to protect our schools.

This article is part of the ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 8, 2024.

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