At the height of the pandemic, K–12 district leaders had to make tech purchasing decisions on the fly. They invested in solutions that were available to get students and staff online to preserve the continuity of learning.
Government relief funds rolled out to support connectivity and other ed tech initiatives. Multiple rounds of funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and the Emergency Connectivity Fund, plus other grants, helped some schools make necessary purchases.
As they endeavor to future-proof school infrastructure using the many available funding options, K–12 leaders and IT decision-makers should keep these best practices in mind when planning their budgets and evaluating new streams of funding.
MORE ON EDTECH: Why should schools prioritize updates to legacy technology?
Evaluate Tech’s Usefulness Carefully to Ensure Compliance
With each new announcement of funding comes new deadlines and regulations on how schools can spend it. ECF grants, for example, came with a lot of compliance guidelines for districts to follow.
School leaders can budget ESSER funding and E-rate to purchase networking equipment, such as routers, switches and access points. However, of the two, only ESSER funding can be used to additionally purchase network cybersecurity solutions, such as firewalls.
While government funds allocated toward a certain goal can benefit districts, they should be careful when purchasing tech solutions. If the technology doesn’t check all the necessary boxes, the school won’t be allowed to use the funding toward it. This could mean reworking the budget yet again to account for a shortfall.
To avoid this, carefully evaluate what will be useful for the students and staff within the district and keep track of how the technology performs. Data analytics can help schools prove technology’s usefulness in the event of an audit.
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Bring All Parties to the Table for District Purchasing Decisions
When it comes to budgeting, there are many ways schools can use the money at their disposal to support education. They might use it for new Chromebooks, for network upgrades or even for a new roof on a building. This can lead to cross-department conflict over who needs the money more.
DIVE DEEPER: Schools can allot ESSER funds to revamp transportation tech.
Bringing all parties to the table ensures all voices are heard when decisions are made. It also ensures that everyone is on the same page. This can help different departments within the district address questions or criticism on the use of public funding.
Because parents and community members can see how the school spends public funds, careful consideration of spending by all departments helps school leaders report back to the community.
Invest Funds in Future Proofing K–12 Districts
Examine the organization’s priorities and look for areas where funding can support a lasting investment. Future-proofing the technology within the district can help IT leaders make decisions on budgeting and tech purchases down the road. It also ensures that the network technology remains invisible to teachers and students, allowing it to “just work” when it should.
Network upgrades provide greater bandwidth, ease of support and uninterrupted access to the resources students need in a modern education environment. Other tech upgrades, like moving to Windows 11 or investing in new Chromebooks, can also help a district more easily integrate changes in the future.
Another way to future-proof with the funds available now is to invest in services. Partners like CDW•G can help districts find and deploy solutions that meet their technical needs. School leaders can rely on CDW•G to assist with all aspects of a network deployment as well, from design through the retirement of old equipment, ensuring maximum uptime and effectiveness in school buildings.
Frequently, K–12 IT teams don’t have the people power to support installations on a large scale.”
Senior Sales Manager, CDW•G
If schools invest in upgraded network components or new projectors for every classroom, they need to consider the services involved in deploying and managing those devices. Frequently, K–12 IT teams don’t have the people power to support installations on a large scale. CDW•G has services for network design, network configuration, access point installs and deinstalls, cabling, and more.
Business continuity plans can also help districts prepare for the impending funding cliff. Planning against federal funding deadlines, as well as traditional funding deadlines, is crucial to ensuring districts get the most out of their pandemic-era budgets.
This article is part of the “ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.
Illustration by Ollie Hirst