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Yet Lakewood’s relative E-Rate success over the past three years has been on a scale unprecedented statewide. Schools and libraries in Lakewood received more in subsidy commitments than any New Jersey city but Newark in 2009, 2010 and 2012. In 2011 the town outstripped even Newark in E-Rate commitments. The $15 million committed to Lakewood schools cumulatively since 2010 is more than twice the amount committed to Trenton during that period and nearly three times the amount committed to Jersey City.
All this was for a township that clocked in at 92,000 people in the 2010 U.S. Census. That’s a third of the size of Newark and Jersey City, which both have populations of roughly a quarter-million people. Lakewood is slightly more populous than Trenton.
Schools receive E-Rate funding commitments based on their requests for particular items and costs that they submit to USAC. The kinds of services they are eligible to have subsidized and the percentage of the cost that USAC will cover are contingent on the income of their students. This, in turn, is measured by the proportion of students who are eligible for free or subsidized lunches through the National School Lunch Program, a federal meal subsidy. That means that cities with larger populations of poor children should receive more in E-Rate funding. Yet Lakewood has only half as many children living in poverty as Newark does, according to U.S. Census data.
Jersey City, where schools and libraries have received $5 million in E-Rate commitments since 2010, has roughly the same number of children living in poverty as Lakewood, which has received three times as much in E-Rate commitments over the same three-year period.
The disproportionately high amount of money going to Lakewood schools in recent years doesn’t correspond to similarly high levels of Internet access. Schools receiving E-Rate subsidies are not required to use those funds only to bring Internet into classrooms. They can pay for telephone service, administrative servers, certain kinds of wiring and telephone hardware, and even mobile phones and e-mail addresses. Yet for schools receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in E-Rate funding, Lakewood’s Orthodox yeshivas report startlingly few Internet-capable devices on campus.
Besides the Lakewood public school district, only eight of the 66 Lakewood schools that received E-Rate subsidies in 2011 report having more than 10 computers or other Internet-capable devices.
While schools in Jersey City report three students for every Internet-capable device, schools in Lakewood reported 16 students for every such device in 2011. Statewide, schools applying to E-Rate from New Jersey reported 2.4 students per Internet-capable device.