Since turning to distance learning in the spring of 2020, American schools have received billions of dollars in donations and gifts from private companies and individuals.Verizon has Firm More than 3 billion U.S. dollars was used to help schools pay for technology, hoping to “not leave students behind.” According to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Give Provided $10 million to a school district in California to close the digital gap. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
These one-time gifts from billionaires and multinational companies are welcomed by most schools, but they are not enough to bridge the gap in access to learning technology, nor are they enough to ultimately provide sustainable financing solutions for technology infrastructure.
The pandemic will eventually subside, and these dollars may flow elsewhere. So, what will the school do when their current new laptop wears out in a few years? Or their network needs to be upgraded? Or their newest teacher needs training?
The school’s total reliance on the super-rich to fund their digital learning-and these funds may be exhausted at any time-illustrates some of the basic problems of K-12 technology spending: inconsistency, random patchwork, and results that affect students’ technology in a disproportionate way Obtain.
Not just equipment
“Digital divide” was not a household word two years ago. Although the pandemic has pushed it into the mainstream, there are still misunderstandings. In other words, many people believe that access to technology comes down to whether students have work equipment and a reliable Internet connection. But the requirements and costs are more complicated than this.
The K-12 school district must plan for the various costs associated with technology integration.Educational technology experts and policy makers federal with State level Regular calls for technology plans to include sustainable funding flows to provide basic work, such as hardware, software, and high-speed Internet access, as well as support that enables technology to truly improve the learning experience, such as staffing (such as technicians, programmers, and technical coaches) , Network infrastructure, maintenance, and-importantly-teacher training on how to effectively use all new technologies.
But how does the school pay for all these expenses?
Most of the funding for the school comes from the state and local, and the federal government has little help. This reliance on local funding is especially true for technology funding, and because school districts vary greatly in their ability to pay for technology costs, school districts must piece together funding from multiple sources, which often still cannot satisfy them. Demand. This is usually when “optional” additional items—such as teacher training and technical coaching—that really should be considered core costs—are being cut.
Although the federal government does not systematically fund school technology, there are mixed federal and state funds that can be used for technology-supported learning. Funding is available through the Every Student Success Act (ESSA), the Education for People with Disabilities Act (IDEA), the E-rate program, and federal COVID relief funds (such as the CARES Act). However, schools are restricted in how to spend the money and often have to make difficult decisions about priorities.
School districts cannot use more than 15% of ESSA funds to support technology. E-rate discounts for Internet purchases can range from 20% to 90% and are only used for Internet access. At the same time, IDEA funding is unlikely to help because schools are already working to fund special education services. Federal relief funds from the CARES Act and the U.S. Rescue Program are time-limited options that cannot meet the full range of technical needs in the long-term, and must also be used to ensure safe return to school during the ongoing pandemic.
Given these constraints, federal support is not enough for any school to meaningfully invest in and maintain comprehensive technology programs.
The funding provided for K-12 technology varies greatly from state to state.Only 21 states provide any form of specialized state funding for technology, which can be derived from digital teaching materials (such as software and electronic textbooks, such as New Mexico) To physical devices (such as laptops and tablets, just like in Maine) According to the most recent analyze From the State Educational Technology Guidance Association.
Several states have allocated funds or specific technology grants to enhance Internet access for K-12 students, including Utah, Washington with Maine, Although some of these plans are still very limited in terms of funding and resources.
Due to the lack of federal and state school technology funding, research shows Most US states rely on local sources of income to fund K-12 public school technology.This dependence can bring significant risks and disadvantages because Documented differences In local funding across regions and states. In a county in California, one school district might spend $22,000 per student, while another school district a few miles away costs only $14,000—or about 36% less.
Despite these funding shortages, school districts have managed to tide over the difficulties by using various strategies (including bond programs, creative budgets, fundraising, and bring your own equipment policies to pay for or supplement technical needs).
However, the bond initiative is problematic For many reasons. School districts may be heavily indebted by purchasing obsolete equipment a few years later, reducing return on investment and limiting school spending on new buildings and other long-term investments. Critics also point out that school districts with insufficient funds are more likely to be in debt to fund technology than school districts with better resources, thereby exacerbating previous inequalities.At the same time, the effectiveness of the innovation budget or technology planning in the regular operating budget is difficult to assess, because public education does not have a transparent way to report or compare technology expenditures across regions, such as Ed Data.
The problem of alternative funding sources
Charitable donations, fundraising, and partnerships between school districts and companies are common ways to solve the shortage of technical funds. But these options also have problems.
Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google regularly provide discount technology to schools, otherwise the school district cannot afford it. as a result, Educational Technology Scholar with educators Express concerns about the growing influence of companies in the field of public schools.
Among the major technology companies, Google is increasingly dominating the educational technology market for K-12 schools. More than half Of U.S. K-12 students use Google products and services in daily school activities, of which Chromebooks account for most In all K-12 equipment purchases.Since Google’s profit mainly comes from online advertising revenue, rather than the actual equipment and services it provides, there are focus on Regarding the use of children’s data and privacy in the edtech market.
Other private participants have shown a keen interest in educational technology, presumably because of its potential for large-scale profitability.In 2020 alone, venture capital firms invested $2.2 billion educational technology startup, A significant increase Previous year.
Critics worry that the future of K-12 education involves companies reforming public education without supervision. In this case, a company may have a lot of influence on the content taught in schools, the digital resources they use, and the general learning philosophy. Great power.
Because the federal and state levels failed to do so in a consistent manner, schools and regions were forced to fund technology-supported learning at will.this National Educational Technology ProgramCreated by the U.S. Department of Education in 2017, it is recommended that school districts adopt unspecified federal programs and reliance on non-profit organizations to ensure that students have fair access to technology.But this inconsistent funding method will not satisfy Estimated between 6 billion and 11 billion U.S. dollars It is necessary to provide students with sufficient equipment and Internet access during the distance learning period, and it will not continue to maintain technically supported learning in the reality after the pandemic.Not to mention the shortage of funds for the professional development of teachers around the use of technology Many advocates say it is the key Link digital learning with better student outcomes.
It is inaccurate to say that the way we fund technology in K-12 schools has been broken, because it has never been a complete beginning. But at this special moment, as students and educators start the new school year, with more technology than ever before, we have the opportunity to chart a better path forward. Policymakers and school leaders can work together to ensure that our students receive the 21st century education they deserve.