The coronavirus pandemic has changed education as we know it. Educators had to quickly adopt creative, and sometimes unfamiliar, ways of teaching and working from a distance, while existing issues like income inequality and the digital divide were pushed further into the spotlight.
Yet there’s another crucial piece the pandemic has upended: public education spending. Today, school leaders across the U.S. are bracing for budget cuts with the decline in state sales and income tax revenues from the coronavirus lockdowns.
At West Bloomfield School District in Michigan, navigating budget cuts when operating costs to safely reopen are increasing will be challenging, Superintendent Gerald Hill tells USA Today. He says the district has had to increase spending due to new expenses such as unusual transportation and deep cleaning requirements, which will cost the district 20 percent more than before.
Schools are looking at a situation they could not have imagined a year ago, EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia shares with NPR. “I think we’re about to see a school funding crisis unlike anything we have ever seen in modern history,” she says.
MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how a streamlined technology department can save districts money.
IT Leaders Continue to Face Budget Constraints
Budget is always a top concern. But the possibility of having massive cuts in funding has placed greater pressure on school leaders as they plan for the fall. In response, many are calling on federal lawmakers to extend relief for K–12 schools beyond what’s already outlined in the CARES Act.
To make smarter decisions about spending in a world where remote learning has become the new normal, school leaders also need to understand existing budget concerns when it comes to IT.
A recent survey of educational technology leaders conducted by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and sponsored in part by CDW•G found that since 2017, budget constraints and lack of resources have been the No. 1 challenge IT leaders face since 2017. Of those surveyed, 57 percent work in districts with technology budgets of $1 million or less for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The survey also looks at cybersecurity spending, which is especially important for school leaders to be knowledgeable about. For instance, while 60 percent of districts allocated less than 10 percent of their technology budget to network security, that percentage may increase with school employees continuing to work from home.
Meanwhile, district initiatives such as improving data interoperability are of interest to IT leaders. It’s the most implemented initiative ahead of single sign-on capability, data dashboards and content interoperability, with 74 percent of respondents saying they’ve adopted it.
With the expanded use of digital tools and IT processes in today’s virtual learning environment, data interoperability will continue to be a crucial component of school systems. IT teams are expected to handle increasing amounts of student data, ever mindful of data privacy concerns.
Furthermore, while the survey notes that great progress has been made over the years when it comes to improving Wi-Fi standards and getting broadband internet and devices into schools, several respondents also made comments highlighting how budgets and resources remain inefficient in their district.
“We are still in the stone age when compared to other parts of the state and wealthier districts,” comments one respondent. “K–12 Educational IT staff are overburdened with no end in sight,” says another.
School leaders will continue to face difficult budgetary decisions moving forward, especially when it comes to tech spending. But funding support, strategic planning and a flexible mindset can help them prevail.
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.