What to Know About the FCC’s $200M K-12 Cybersecurity Pilot Program

The text "FCC Cybersecurity Pilot Program 0M K-12 Funding" on a white and grey textured background.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched—what many hope is—a game-changing pilot program offering $200M to secure K-12 school networks.

The Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program will provide eligible school districts a minimum of $15,000 up to $1.5 million in funding to help secure their networks from cyberattacks.

Why?

Because the education sector surpassed all other industries in ransomware attack rates in 2023, and attacks continue to rise.

80% of K-12 schools reported a sustained attack last year, and those same schools were the most likely—across all industry sectors—to lose business or revenue due to ransomware incidents.

Schools are notoriously easy targets (older systems, schools rely heavily on technology in learning, lack of cybersecurity experts on staff, etc.), and they are ripe with some of the most valuable data in the world: identity information of thousands of people, the vast majority with virtually no online or credit records.

A problem needs solving, and this FCC pilot program is one of the first steps.

What the FCC K-12 Cybersecurity Pilot Program Is

This program—adopted on June 6, 2024—allocates $200M to bolster K-12 cybersecurity. The funding aims to enhance network security across schools, ensure students' data is protected, and minimize cyber threats.

The program aims to enroll a variety of schools and school districts, funding eligible participating school systems to secure their networks under four categories:

  • Advanced or next-generation firewalls
  • Endpoint protection
  • Identity protection and authentication
  • Monitoring, detection, and response

In addition to the FCC’s funding for schools, libraries are eligible for up to $175,000. The amount each school or library receives will be determined using a formula of $13.60 per student. This will be a three-year pilot program.

It is important to note that these funds will be independent of the E-rate program, but the FCC will study the impact of this pilot initiative as it evaluates future changes to the E-rate program.

FCC Cybersecurity Pilot Program Selection Criteria

The FCC has published a fairly straightforward list of selection criteria for this K-12 cybersecurity funding.

  • To apply, schools, school districts, and libraries must meet the E-rate program’s eligibility requirements but do not need to be a current or former E-rate applicant.
  • The FCC wants to award funds to a combination of large, small, urban, and rural schools and libraries, with a particular focus on low-income and tribal applicants, as well as those with the greatest cybersecurity needs.
  • Applying for the program requires an FCC Form 484 application. Some of the information required includes applicants’ experience with cybersecurity matters, current or expected use of free or low-cost federal resources, goals and objectives for the pilot program, services and equipment to be purchased, and the risks the project will prevent or address.

Applying for these grants can be confusing—it’s often helpful to work with a partner who’s experienced in this area and has guided many school districts through similar processes.

  • The application window is expected to open in the fall of 2024.

Applying for the FCC Cybersecurity Pilot Program: How to Prepare

While you wait for the application window to open, there are things you should do now to prepare.

  1. Sign up for updates from the FCC’s Universal Service Administration Company.
  2. Assess your current cybersecurity posture.

Conduct a thorough audit to evaluate your school’s current cybersecurity measures. Identify vulnerabilities and areas that need the most improvement.

  1. Develop a cybersecurity improvement plan.

Create a plan outlining the steps to enhance your school’s cybersecurity. Prioritize your actions based on the audit findings. Research the services and products you hope to purchase to find the most cost-effective approach for your situation.

When the application window opens, applicants will be required to provide information regarding:
Risks that the project will prevent or address
Goals and objectives to be achieved
• Their cybersecurity experience
Services and equipment to be purchased

The Future of K-12 Cybersecurity

The FCC’s $200M pilot program is an opportunity for K-12 schools to enhance their cybersecurity. And whether or not your school system is accepted into the program, use this as the perfect time to assess your school system’s cybersecurity and the steps you can take to improve your security posture.

At HBS, we specialize in cybersecurity for K-12 schools. We’ve assisted schools and districts of all sizes in evaluating both their security and software licensing and how they fit together.

Contact us today and take the first step toward securing your school’s future.

author avatar
Carly Westpfahl