Oct 06 2022

Analyzing ROI Helps IT Leaders Make Decisions Ahead of the Funding Cliff

With ESSER fund deadlines approaching in 2024, and other factors threatening districts’ influx of funding, Lightspeed Systems can help administrators evaluate spending.

The coming years are set to see a slowdown — if not an outright stop — in the emergency government funding that supported many K–12 school districts throughout the pandemic and beyond. The technology solutions districts purchased and relied on during that time, notably subscription-based software applications, now present a problem: The money will stop, but subscription fees won’t.

The result is that K–12 district leaders are facing a funding cliff. “Come the 2024-2025 school year, a combination of declining enrollments, stimulus funding running out and an economic downturn could lead to a drop off in the funds available for schools,” explains Amy Bennett, chief of staff at Lightspeed Systems.

This possibility has forced many K–12 decision-makers to ask, “How will we determine what technologies we can continue to afford?”

Increasingly, the answer is data analytics.

DISCOVER: Solutions from Lightspeed Systems can help schools analyze their IT environment.

What Are the Funding Challenges Facing K–12 Districts?

Throughout 2020, many school districts were spending a lot — and spending it fast —to acquire the necessary technology to enable remote learning. The need to adapt quickly to the pandemic emergency led to indiscriminate spending, as schools sought any tech they could get. School leaders frequently didn’t have the luxury of wondering which products would work best or considering the long-term commitments they were making.

“Those extra dollars have created long-term financial challenges,” says Anthony Padrnos, executive director of technology at Osseo Area Schools in Minnesota. As 2024 approaches, those challenges will need addressed.

“We’ll have to make difficult decisions about where we potentially pare down resources, support and services,” says Padrnos. Those decisions need to be well informed, which is why data analytics have become an important tool for school IT teams. When used well, these solutions can lead directly to ROI improvement.

How Do Data Analytics Tools Prepare Districts for the Funding Cliff?

Lightspeed Systems’ analytics solutions count among the data tools empowering K–12 districts to gain better, actionable insights into their application use and network visibility.

Osseo Area Schools, Minnesota’s fifth largest school system, is among the districts using Lightspeed Systems’ analytics solutions to improve ROI.

“Lightspeed Systems helps us gather the data of all the system tools we’re using, and it helps us understand if we are getting return on investments within our technology and digital landscape,” Padrnos says.

Even before the pandemic, it was important to Osseo Area Schools to use Lightspeed Systems to monitor the three sources of funding it receives: federal funding, state general education funds and voter-approved tax levies. “We used that data to see how things are being used in our system, as well as an analytics tool to understand where our dollars are being spent,” says Padrnos. Understanding where money is going is even more important now as the cliff looms.

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Osseo Area Schools has already experienced the decision-making processes many districts will go through before 2024. For example, it used to pay for one learning management system across all of its K–12 classes. During the pandemic and since, however, Lightspeed Systems’ analytics made apparent that elementary-level classes weren’t using the LMS. That data-based insight enabled the district’s IT team to improve ROI by moving K–5 classes to the learning platform Seesaw, which students and teachers began using more frequently.

Similar scenarios could play out frequently across districts in the time leading up to the funding cliff, but data analytics won’t be used just for monetary return on investment. Analytics can also provide cross-referenced insights into what impact apps are having on student outcomes, graduation rates, attendance rates and more.

How Can Districts Maximize ROI with Data Analytics Tools?

There are a few best practices for districts looking to make the most of data analytics in coming years.

First, don’t wait. To make the most informed decisions, districts need time to collect as much information as possible to obtain the most comprehensive overview.

MORE ON EDTECH: Know where to start with network modernization in K–12 districts.

“Something districts can do is start collecting data today and make sure that, over the next couple of years, they’re gathering this understanding of what’s being used and by whom, and how important it is,” says Bennett. Starting the analysis now can give districts some flexibility to adjust their spending sooner rather than later, maximizing the remaining government funding with proactive decision-making.

It’s important, too, that districts have a well-thought-out strategy for what they want from their analytics.

“When advising, we always start off by trying to understand what a district’s immediate needs are,” says Bennett. “Are they using it to solve a specific problem? Prepare for the future?”

The careful thought applied to preplanning should also be applied once data is collected and ready to be analyzed. “Make sure you’re getting a full view of data,” Bennett advises. Understanding and contextualizing data empowers not just the best possible decisions, but also helps districts avoid any potential errors.

As an example, Bennett cites one school that eliminated an app that was seeing minimal use. However, it turned out to be special education software that was important to its target users. She emphasizes that the primary goal of data analytics is to help districts make the best choices with the most peace of mind.

“The more information you have, the less stress you’ll feel about decisions you have to make,” says Padrnos.

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