In the past five years, budgets for technology spending in US K-12 schools have steadily increased. Even while overall school district budgets consistently seem to take a hit, including proposed funding cuts at the federal level for 2018-2019, there has been a commitment to putting more technology in the classrooms. Along with bigger investments for hardware and software, there has also come a necessary uptick in funds for teacher training and tech support for the classroom. Generally speaking, it’s always encouraging to see more money funneled toward any type of student spending, and especially ed tech. But does this come at a cost to other critical areas of tech spend?
Perhaps the only downside of today’s budgeting priorities is that less money is going toward general information technology needs. When evaluating a school district’s technology needs (particularly as part of capital investments), it’s also important to shift enough dollars to cover those solutions that can have a significant impact on overall safety, efficiency, and communication.
That’s easier said than done, particularly when administrators and IT leaders are facing increased public scrutiny over spending decisions.
Among the long list of issues that arise (and are often heatedly debated) when evaluating tech budgets are:
- Where are dollars spent, i.e., what portion directly benefits classrooms (students/teachers)
- How do you split operational IT spending with classroom ed tech spending (tablets, laptops, learning-based software, etc)
- Impact of pressure from public audits uncovering abuse or mismanagement of funds/expenditures
- Wasted funds on high maintenance costs of legacy technology and expensive licenses for tech
- Backlash from prior investments (purchasing the “wrong” systems that don’t perform as they should have, cost more to deploy than expected, or wasted time and resources due to slow adoption of tool by users because they were complicated to learn, training was lacking or were just too cumbersome)
- Wasted indirect costs due to lack of IT policy and enforcement (i.e, mobile devices)
- Spending on projects that don’t address school safety, student privacy, etc
Given the ongoing divide over dollars, what are the spending priorities for technology in 2018? According to EdTech Navigator, the top five priorities for K-12 tech spending are: personalized learning, digital content and curriculum, professional development to integrate tech into classrooms, mobility (1:1 and BYOD), and networking and infrastructure upgrades. While this article is focused on K-12, it’s worth noting that public and private colleges/universities face similar challenges when it comes to tech spending priorities. EdTech Navigator also has some good information on IT spending priorities for community colleges and estimated IT spend in 2018 for the top private and public universities.
It’s good to see “networking and infrastructure upgrades” and “mobility” earmarked for necessary technology investments – themes also common across public and private universities. One specific technology solution under these categories that should get priority, is a VoIP phone system.
Communication is at the heart of a school – and given the critical need for an increased focus on school safety and on mobility, any school or district operating with a legacy phone system must put dollars toward an upgrade at the top of its IT budget.
Some of the challenges school systems face today (that are further hindrances when using a legacy phone system and are areas that must be addressed when selecting a replacement solution) include:
- Safety – Integration with emergency notification systems, paging/intercom capabilities, ability to make mass phone calls, and the need for mobility integrated in order to enable flexible and fast responding task forces across the campus
- Overwhelming call volume – The need for easy, automated ways to route calls without being overly dependent upon already limited IT staff/resources
- Antiquated communication options – Tied to a desk instead of having access to mobility functionality in communications/softphones; need for more functionality options, such as Voicemail-to-email and click-to-dial capabilities
- Options for communication with parents is limited – Need better way for administrators/teachers to return parents calls, especially outside of the classroom; need to integrate mobility and BYOD but must be able to display the school’s DID instead of the teacher’s personal information, etc
- Current system is too complex – Understanding legacy systems is often dependant upon having knowledge of outdated telecom jargon; supporting and maintaining aging system is also not simple (or cheap); and there needs to be simplified ease-of-use for staff, teachers and parent volunteers, including being easy to train and learn the system and in a short amount of time.
- Integration with in-school systems – Updated technology needs to work with and alongside everyday facility requirement such as bells, intercoms, student databases, etc.
Of course, you can’t address challenges of replacing a legacy system without including the struggle of living with a limited, restrictive budget. Schools (as is the point of this article) generally must operate on a shoestring budget. But when it comes to upgrading to a better phone system, you still need all of the functionality, even with limited budget.
The key is to find a solution that meets all of those challenges outlined above, and is affordable. In this case, being “affordable” means that you can be comfortable in re-prioritizing the school’s IT spend to push a phone system project to the top of list, but still be confident that you are leaving enough budget to still adequately support in-classroom ed-tech spend.
For more information on affordable VoIP phone systems for schools, you can access Digium’s resources specifically for school systems.