Why digital wallets are the future of K12 purchasing and reimbursements

Digital wallets enable K-12 CFOs to control spending, maximize resource allocation and empower educators.
Arthur Watts
Arthur Watts
Arthur Watts, Jr., is the chief school finance officer for Montgomery Public Schools in Alabama. He has served as the CSFO since 2018. Prior to coming to the district, he served as CSFO of Birmingham City Schools for 14 years, Talladega City Schools for two years, and served on the Wilcox County Board of Education for four years.

It is up to us as leaders in school finance to usher in powerful new solutions for innovation that will streamline spending, ensure compliance and maximize the potential of public funds. So, how do we do it? Digital wallets are a way to go back to school and champion transformative changes that equip schools and allow educators to have everything they need for the classroom and beyond.

As a school finance officer with more than a quarter-century of experience working with districts in financial crisis and distress, I know this type of change can be hard—but it is necessary. In the face of mounting challenges, finance departments should be seeking to elevate their impact by embracing digitization and empowering staff to use the funds they are given.

By accessing the most advanced automation designed specifically to manage public funds in education, districts can remove manual processes, speed up approvals and ultimately, make teachers, principals, administrators and finance departments happy with a digital solution that works for everyone.

Understanding distribution challenges

Four years ago, Montgomery Public Schools, like many other districts, was manually managing our purchasing and reimbursement process for our 51 schools. We discovered numerous inefficiencies, ranging from a lack of awareness (staff did not know they had access to funds) to a lack of access (staff did not know where to access funds). The actual process of requesting supplies was cumbersome, slow and required manual sign-off before goods could be purchased.

Sometimes, a teacher had to wait four to six weeks to see their requests materialize in their classroom. This was unacceptable to us and one of the reasons we began exploring digital solutions and investigating if there was any new technology to improve our processes.

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At Montgomery, we knew we needed a digital solution that could be easily implemented across our district, allowed us to maintain control over the funds, and ensured the purchases met the funding guidelines. We also wanted tools that encouraged our teachers and staff to utilize their supply money throughout the year. The ideal technology for us had to be simple to use, audit-ready at any time and able to deliver a high return on investment.

Digital wallets transform purchasing and reimbursements

After careful research, Montgomery selected ClassWallet, a digital wallet platform in education for purchasing and reimbursement, to help us modernize and optimize our purchasing and reimbursement processes.

Digital wallets are transforming the way that educational institutions and government agencies can distribute public funds to a network of individuals or organizations while maintaining complete compliance and control. The technology allows users, such as teachers, to make purchases in a controlled manner, while also enabling finance officers to ensure compliance with a sophisticated approvals process, reconciliation and reporting tools.

We were a little nervous about implementing a new process and technology, but ClassWallet was easy to implement—we had the platform up and running in a few weeks. After that, we onboarded our staff to make sure they knew how to access and use their digital wallets. Our teachers and staff were elated because all they had to do was log in, make their selections from the eMarketplace and submit their requests. This was in sharp contrast to our former purchasing process, which was time-consuming, arduous, inefficient and slow.

Realizing the full potential of public funds

Since implementing ClassWallet’s platform, our results have been tremendous. We have saved an estimated 6,300 hours in administrative time by introducing efficiencies across purchase order processing, check processing and fund allocation. We have shrunk approval processes to 48 hours and increased our distribution from 18% to 42% in the first quarter of the year alone. We have also reduced the number of purchase orders for this particular funding source by 90%. Best of all, this has been done with less burden on the finance team and elevated compliance, control and visibility.

For Montgomery, there is no going back to the old way of doing things. Our teachers are delighted, our principals are pleased, our administrators are set up for success, and of course, our finance department is happy.

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