Six tips for districts to avoid the next funding cliff

by Admin
Six tips for districts to avoid the next funding cliff

This is a tough summer of budget cuts, forcing many districts to reduce staff and cut back on purchases. For school and district technology leaders, the end of the school year also means the end of billions of dollars of federal COVID-19 relief funding that was available to K-12 schools through various packages–money that was used to implement 1:1 technology programs that were essential for remote learning. We’ve been calling it the “funding cliff”–that time when the additional single-purpose funds have been spent, and schools have to return to their typical annual budgets.

The funding cliff, and resulting cuts to services and equipment, creates a significant barrier to digital equity in schools, as consistent access to devices and connectivity is one of the five domains of Digital Promise’s Digital Equity Framework. Funding cliffs can also be caused by the loss of extra funds from bond and referendum projects, and something as simple as gifts to the school. To effectively support teaching and learning, a school technology program must approach all expenditures by asking how the purchase or new staffing position will be sustained with future funding.

Let me explain: Every item purchased with the school tech budget comes with the financial upfront cost, as well as ongoing maintenance, support, and replacement costs. While special projects provide funds for the upfront costs, schools are often left to find local funds for the ongoing costs. We consider this to be the “total cost of ownership.”

School and district leaders committed to digital equity allocate resources and dedicated personnel to ensure the sustainability of their systems and technology programs. As experienced technology leaders, we share several strategies with IT leaders in the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program to avoid future funding cliffs, therefore building sustainability into school programming and technology purchases. These can be tailored to support your district’s policies and procedures, and will provide you with a good place to start planning for sustainability. For more details on funding for sustainability, check out Digital Promise’s recently updated Technology Sustainability Toolkit.

Strategy 1: Develop a technology lifecycle plan

Technology purchases are often cyclical; we know that certain equipment must be replaced every 3-5 years. By creating a lifecycle plan, major expenditures can be scheduled to avoid major purchases in the same budget year. For example, in year one, network equipment is replaced; in year two, desktop computers are replaced; in year three, mobile devices are replaced; and so on. This type of budget planning allows a department budget to be about the same year after year. Also, short-term leasing allows expenditures to be spread over several budget cycles to balance budgets. This sample Technology Lifecycle Plan is an example of how a district could balance technology expenditures year-over-year.

Strategy 2: Establish technology standards

Schools can reduce costs for support and training by standardizing their equipment. For example, when a district purchases one model of device for all schools, it reduces its costs for training, support, and repair parts. The tech support staff will be more efficient, reducing the time needed to provide support, because they will have fewer warranty partners and require less training to support devices. Also, combining orders will allow for better discounts for a larger quantity.

Strategy 3: Disclose the total cost of ownership with all purchases

Schools are often gifted with technology. However, while the tech may have been a gift, there are additional costs that people don’t consider, such as the purchase of licenses, repairs and parts, and a replacement device in 2-3 years. By including these costs before a gift is accepted, the technology budget is not forced to reallocate funds for these “gift” purchases.

Strategy 4: Be creative in providing support!

Technology support has two expenses: the cost of repair, and the cost of lost use (the cost to students and teachers when they are not able to learn and teach because the technology is broken). There are several ways in which schools can reduce the cost and time to complete repairs:

  1. Work with vendors to complete repairs on-site. Some vendors will provide training and provide access to parts, allowing for a quick turnaround of repairs.
  2. Create student tech teams, where students are trained to provide tier 1 support for school technology. This can be done as a class, where students earn course credit and industry certifications, and can be extended into paid summer internships. Digital Promise’s Student Tech Team Toolkit can assist schools in creating a student tech team.

Strategy 5: Use data to make informed decisions

In the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program, we analyze repair claims each month to identify trends and be proactive in avoiding future damage claims. Recently, we saw many repair claims for one specific component on a model of hardware. This early detection allowed us to work with the manufacturer for extended warranty support, and to provide support tips to the tech staff to reduce future damages and claims.

Strategy 6: Increase cybersecurity efforts

Ransomware continues to be a real—and expensive—threat to schools. A district’s investment in cybersecurity efforts is an investment in risk mitigation and lowers the chances of falling prey to attacks. Moving to single sign-on (SSO) or multi-factor authentication, implementing password management tools, transitioning to passphrases, and teaching staff how to recognize phishing attempts are all ways districts can keep their district’s data secure. For further information go to CoSN’s Cybersecurity page.

Effectively managing a technology budget requires planning and flexibility to ensure teachers and learners have the tools and access they need. What strategies have you been using to balance your technology budgets and avoid future funding cliffs?

To dive deeper into these strategies for avoiding a funding cliff and planning for sustainability, check out our recently updated Technology Sustainability Toolkit.

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