Dec 20 2023

The ESSER Funding Cliff: Sustaining IT Upgrades After 2024

Get ahead of K–12 financial woes with cloud, data analytics and asset management.

Distributions from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund helped schools acquire much-needed technologies. With that winding down in 2024, K–12 school leaders are worried about how they will sustain the essential IT upgrades they’ve made.

The ESSER funding cliff presents risks. “With that federal funding coming to an end, school systems are suddenly going to have holes in their budgets. That’s going to be a problem, especially for those school systems that perhaps invested in technologies but didn’t have a plan for sustaining them,” says Susan Bearden, CEO of Bearden Education Technology Consulting.

Schools need to focus on IT cost optimization, which refers to “the strategic management and reduction of IT expenses without compromising education quality or the quality of the user’s experience,” she says. “Districts are going to have to be very thoughtful about how they cut budgets while minimizing the impact on instruction.”

Three key technologies can help: cloud, data analytics and asset management.

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Cloud Could be a Key Cost Optimization Tool for K–12 Schools

A migration to the cloud can help drive down costs. According to results of a 2022 Deloitte survey of 500 senior cloud decision-makers across the U.S., 39 percent reported that investing in the cloud reduced costs to a large extent. Cloud migration saves on expenses associated with hardware, software and infrastructure, according to the IT association ISACA.

“One of the primary benefits of the cloud is that you’re reducing your upfront hardware expenses,” Bearden explains. Outsourced infrastructure means IT teams don’t have to invest in upgrades and ongoing maintenance for on-premises servers, for example.

By shifting to the cloud, “you’re also shifting the staff costs,” she continues. “The cost of managing those services is baked into what you’re paying on a monthly basis. You outsource both the equipment and the technical expertise.”

Thomas Coughlin
Management of your assets gives you more control over how you do things, and lets you be more cost-effective.”

Tom Coughlin IEEE Life Fellow and 2024 IEEE President

Data Analytics Helps Schools Find Cost-Saving Opportunities

With data analytics, schools can get greater visibility into the use of various IT tools, enabling them to optimize their spending by removing underutilized technology.

Log analysis, for example, can help curtail unnecessary spending by identifying underutilized resources. In industry studies, 86 percent of IT leaders said they were looking to increase the use of data to improve or optimize operational costs, Pure Storage reports.

“If you can analyze what’s happening and get metrics on that, it can help you be more effective,” says Tom Coughlin, IEEE life fellow and 2024 IEEE president. “You get more impact from your existing resources. Am I paying for things I’m not using?”

“If I do the analytics, it can help me to find out what is effective, where I get the biggest bang for the buck, and to focus on those things,” he continues, adding that analytics can help K-12 leaders identify the appropriate pricing model for cloud services.

DISCOVER: Learn how modern data management helps these schools do more.

On the hardware side, “you can use data analytics to optimize your technology resource utilization and then identify areas for cost efficiency,” Bearden says. “By analyzing data on device usage or software application uses or network traffic, that can help IT better understand its needs and therefore make better and more informed decisions.”

Predictive analytics “can also help aid in anticipating maintenance needs, which can reduce the likelihood of catastrophic systems failure” and the expenses related to those, she says. “And with insight into how technology is being used, schools can negotiate better contracts with vendors and maybe identify bulk purchasing opportunities that can lead to potential cost savings.”

Source: onsortium for School Networking, “EdTech Trends and Funding: A CoSN Member Survey 2022,” August 2022

How Asset Management Can Help Schools Save Money

Asset management refers to the tracking of both hardware resources and software licenses. Modern asset management software empowers K-12 schools to track and manage their technology investments more efficiently, while identifying potential areas for savings.

Effective asset management “helps organizations deliver value, improve efficiency, reduce costs, optimize resource utilization, and ensure sustainable business development,” according to ISO, the global standards body.

With an eye toward optimizing costs, schools can leverage asset management tools to avoid overpurchasing. They can also identify obsolete or underused technologies and save money through repurposing or retiring those.

What is cost optimization? It’s not just about saving money but also about making the most of what you have on hand. Asset management can be a key enabler.

DIVE DEEPER: See how asset management tech can save money and reduce risk.

“If I’m aware of what my assets are and what they’re doing, I could pre-position things where they need to be,” Coughlin says. “Management of your assets gives you more control over how you do things and lets you be more cost-effective.”

An accurate inventory of hardware and software “prevents school systems from overpurchasing or making unnecessary upgrades. It can facilitate lifecycle management and help IT to better plan for those replacements and upgrades. It also can help with resource optimization: Schools can identify and redistribute any underutilized devices or technology services,” Bearden says.

Susan Bearden
With insight into how technology is being used, schools can negotiate better contracts with vendors and maybe identify bulk purchasing opportunities that can lead to potential cost savings.”

Susan Bearden CEO, Bearden Education Technology Consulting

“It also helps with loss prevention,” she adds. “During the pandemic, a lot of districts were in such a panic to get devices into their students’ hands that they just assembled laptop carts and handed out devices. They didn’t necessarily track where all those devices went. As a result, there were a lot of devices that just got lost in the shuffle. By knowing what you have and where it is, it can help with loss prevention.”

On the software side, asset management can reveal license availability to help schools avoid oversubscribing. “If you have 20 students who leave a school, that frees up 20 licenses. Then, if you have 20 students who come into the school, you may be able to use those licenses. That’s especially important for larger districts, which tend to have a lot of turnover,” Bearden says.

Push Back from the ESSER Funding Cliff with Smart Planning

The ESSER cliff promises to be “a perfect storm of financial chaos brought on by the abrupt ending of federal pandemic relief funds, falling district enrollments and slowing state revenues,” according to the Brookings Institution. Brookings’ research estimates that the end of ESSER represents, on average, “a single-year reduction in spending of over $1,000 per student.”

By leveraging cloud, analytics and asset management, K-12 schools can optimize their IT spend, reduce technology costs and position themselves to successfully ride out that storm.

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