Mar 08 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 at any moment.

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 will offer as part of its Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program.

That said, this is a step up from what the FCC already provides through its E-rate program, whose cybersecurity coverage includes only basic firewalls and support services to configure them. The FCC admitted as much when they announced the program in November by 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 cyber threats 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 K–12 schools. Additional funding through this program would help the FCC determine whether they should permanently fund advanced firewall services.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in a statement describing the pilot program, said “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 no information yet about when the application window will open. However, it’s likely to be a short window that will open sometime this summer. To increase their chances of making it into the pilot, schools should have everything well prepared to start the application process.

Put Your Cybersecurity House in Order

It’s important that schools and libraries interested in getting this funding start planning now. They would apply to participate in the pilot program by sharing detailed information about how they plan to use funds for cybersecurity and advanced firewall projects. 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 environment and be able to explain how they manage it.

Do you know everything that you use for your current cybersecurity solution? 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 likely 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’d like to purchase through the program. To help the program meet its core goal, schools will need a plan to track and report how these tools, once purchased, impacted cyber incidents in a positive or negative way.

Before applying, it would be best to evaluate your internal resources to see whether your school and libraries 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.

DIVE DEEPER: Strengthen your cybersecurity with managed services.

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 CoSN or SETDA might 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 learn 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

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