For the past few years, pandemic relief funding has been instrumental in keeping certain K12 programs and staffing intact. However, leaders are already thinking about ways they can keep these investments when these funds run out in September 2024, which has been labeled “the bloodletting” by one economist For instance, how can schools afford to maintain 1:1 device operations, maintenance and repairs?
A new report from the Consortium for School Networking seeks to answer this question as K12 leaders begin to navigate options and solutions for avoiding the “fiscal cliff” they’ve been warned about for months. The findings are based on interviews with current and former CIOs and CTOs, a regional educational service agency director and individuals from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.
According to the report, leaders will likely face several challenges in sustaining their 1:1 programs over the next few years:
Extending their device lifespan
Built-in expiration dates pose a great financial burden and environmental challenges, the researchers argue. Allowing students to use their devices past this end-of-life (EOL) date could expose them to several cybersecurity threats and other issues.
Additionally, IT leaders should conduct regular maintenance and repair to compensate for devices’ “real-world durability” aside from their life span.
Bracing the “fiscal cliff”
At a time when school districts are dealing with dwindling enrollment and economic inflation, the looming elimination of Elementary and Secondary Education Relief (ESSER) funds may seem even more frightening, especially considering schools’ reliance on these funds for technology.
According to the report, more than 40% of Local Education Agencies (LEAs) have used these funds for addressing the digital divide, primarily through the implementation of 1:1 devices, “which are ongoing expenses rather than one-time capital expenditures,” the researchers wrote.
1:1’s hidden cost
Aside from the initial purchase of student devices, schools must anticipate paying for additional items, like chargers and cases, which can quickly add up in cost.
Additionally, IT leaders are expected to purchase additional parts for repair and maintenance, professional development, content applications, account for energy usage and potentially hire additional staff to manage these devices.
Ideas for sustainability
Before you implement a 1:1 device program, you should already know the total cost of ownership. Fortunately, CoSN offers some strategies that’ll help you plan out this strategic investment in a way that’s sustainable and cost-effective:
First, consider whether these devices should be an operational or capital expense. Historically, K12 spending on technology falls under CapEx (capital expenditure) to ensure its long-term investment. However, the researchers argue in favor of funding through OpEx (operational expenditure) for its practicality and ability to align with “the recurring nature of technology expenses, offering a pay-as-you-go model that minimizes financial risk or waste for school districts,” the report reads.
Next, you must think about strategic planning. Take into consideration stakeholder collaboration for input on the type of device that should be purchased, inventory assessment to fill various gaps and take into account device lifespans, and crafting supportive policies for their management and disposal.
Data analysis is also important for creating your procurement plans, accounting for digital inequities and ensuring fiscal responsibility. As you review devices for consideration, look into their interoperability, EOL dates and repairability to ensure the investment is financially wise and sustainable.
Finally, consider implementing a “hybrid model” for device repairs that pulls from the three traditional models: outsourcing repairs, in-house technology teams and student technology teams. Depending on the size of your school or district, conducting data collection on your devices’ issues may help you better understand which model to leverage.
Including students in this effort can also help to save labor costs while promoting certain educational and job-like experiences for children before college.
“As educational technology evolves, schools encounter complex challenges related to sustainability, fiscal responsibility, and equitable access,” the report reads. “By examining both immediate concerns and forward-thinking strategies, educational leaders and stakeholders will gain valuable insights into transforming emergency-driven actions into sustainable, intentional, and equitable digital learning environments.”