By Dennis Pierce
Purchasing and supporting edtech investments might seem hard in this climate of scarce school funding, but a new guidance document from the New Jersey Department of Education can help.
The report, Transformative Budgeting for Digital Learning, was published earlier this year. Though it’s written specifically for New Jersey school districts, its advice can apply to any schools.
The report recommends (1) aligning edtech expenditures with strategic goals, (2) convening cross-functional budget leadership teams that bring together finance, technology, curriculum, and instructional departments, and (3) moving to what it calls “transformative, zero-based budgeting,” a process in which you would start each budget cycle at zero and add costs only as they meet your district’s goals.
In other words, the report urges K-12 leaders to think of their budgets in ways that are “transformative, not additive.” Rather than thinking of technology as something that you just add on to your existing budget, consider how you can replace existing line items with technology—or save in other areas to offset its costs.
Having a cross-functional budget team can help you think more strategically about your budget, the report says, while collaboratively exploring options for saving money or discovering additional revenue streams.
Besides seeking grants and taking advantage of Title I and E-rate monies, here are five other strategies that can help:
- Rethink instructional investments. Can you reallocate textbook funding to pay for digital devices and content? Can you take advantage of free or open educational resources to save money on instructional materials? The Beyond Textbooks program in Arizona’s Vail School District has teachers develop peer-reviewed instructional modules using online content, digital subscriptions, and open educational resources—and the district reportedly has saved $41 (33 percent) in textbook costs per pupil.
- Cut down on paper-based communications. To what extent can online student information and learning management systems (like the PLUS 360 solutions) reduce paper-based communications in your district? According to the report, the Niles Township High School District 219 in Skokie, Ill., has saved $25,000 per year on postage by delivering report cards and progress reports electronically.
- Take advantage of cooperative purchasing. A growing number of school systems are joining together in statewide or local purchasing consortia and using their collective buying power to drive down the cost of technologies. In New Jersey, for instance, “many school districts are taking advantage of the NJDOE Broadband Initiative to join a cooperative purchasing consortia in order to purchase bandwidth more efficiently.”
- Attract more students to your district. Pennsylvania’s Quakertown Community School District (QCSD) has created its own virtual school program that has brought in as much as $230,000 in yearly per-pupil funding by re-enrolling students the district had lost to other cyber or charter school programs. What’s more, its Bridges Virtual School grossed more than $156,000 in 2011-12 by enrolling students from other districts in online courses taught by QCSD teachers and providing professional development on blended learning for teachers in those districts, the report says.
- Leverage community and business partnerships. QCSD has partnered with local businesses, such as Best Buy, Verizon, and Comcast, to offer discounts on hardware and affordable broadband access to students’ families, the report says. Georgia’s Forsythe County Schools asks parents to donate old smart phones, which can be used on the district’s Wi-Fi network without a data plan—and to support students in using these mobile devices for learning outside school, the district asks businesses with free Wi-Fi to put a sticker in their windows and offers a directory listing of these resources.
The report includes other creative examples from additional school districts, as well as a list of smart edtech budgeting tools—such as the Consortium for School Networking’s Value of Investment tool, which guides K-12 leaders through a cost-benefit analysis of proposed edtech projects.