Out of Control

The ever spiraling madness of funding, financing and technology

CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis

Education Funding illustration CREDIT US Census BureauThe times they are a changin’.  It used to be, the only thing you had to worry about budgeting for in education besides the usual cost in personnel, infrastructure and maintenance — was textbooks. I know, I have simplified this list — but let me digress. Today there is an ever growing need for schools to go digital, but how to do so and to fund it properly is a growing problem that is quickly spiraling out of control.  Let me explain.

You see, the talk in education is the knowledge that it is in the students’ best interest if the school or district could find a way to put an Internet capable device in the hand of each child. Yes, what we are talking about is the ever so popular adage “going one-to-one.” Just think of the possibilities. We give every child in our school or district a device that can connect them to the ever changing world instantly. From flipping the classroom, to MOOCs to virtual field trips and so much more.  The options are truly endless.  We can make learning, fun, engaging, personalized and well expensive.

Let’s face it, one-to-one is expensive and the ever popular question keeps popping up in schools worldwide, how do we fund it?  According to Doug Johnson of Educational Leadership magazine, in the December 2011/January 2012 issue, “schools in the United States spend a lot of money on education technology—estimated then to be $56 billion dollars—36 percent of which is spent in K–12 education.”1

Just think of how much tablet demand has increased this number since then.  I am sure the amount has gone up.  Also, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, “total spending was $524.0 billion, of which $317.8 billion went to instruction and $179.0 billion to support services, such as school bus transportation and the operation and maintenance of school buildings and equipment. Per pupil expenditures amounted to $10,615 with great variation among the states. The District of Columbia led all states at $18,667 followed by New York ($18,618).”2

Looking at the statistics from the two links provided, that works out to be a staggering 26.5 percent of per pupil expenditure is on technology purchases. That is huge. With State and Federal Governments helping to defray some of this cost, coupled with CIPA regulations impacting e-rate funding, there is little margin for error. How do schools get this right and how do they do it without losing funding is the real concern.

There are so many unanswered questions. Which device is best and what do you give up or gain by using the device you choose? Do we have the infrastructure to support this initiative? Do we have enough broadband? Do we have enough access points to truly be wireless everywhere on our campuses or will we have dead spots? Do we qualify for e-rate funding?

With e-rate funding comes the ever added pressure of ensure you comply with CIPA regulations.  Often this fear of losing e-rate funding often can come to seem like educators are making “ill-informed policies that are widening the digital divide”. As Vala Afshar states in this same article:

The learning benefits of social media are far too great to restrict it out of hand by applying a conservative interpretation of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Instead, do your homework; gather data by talking with teachers, and test it first-hand.3

So we need to ensure we plan, talk with people and ensure we are compliant. We need to seek alternative forms of funding to fill in the gaps of what e-rate funding does not cover that leaves us coming up short in funding any new educational technology initiative. Competition for these funds is fierce. Can we get towns to raise taxes to cover it? Will parents agree to offset costs incurred by a one to one plan? Can we find unique ways to get the community to assist?

Ok, so let’s say we decide to go to a BYOD policy, new questions arise? What happens if I depend on a student to bring their own devise daily and they forget it, what can they use for the day? What happens if their device get broken, who will fix it so they can continue to participate with the class? How do I control what they bring pre-loaded onto their own device so it is not violating CIPA regulations and or is not a distraction or offensive to others in class? How well did we plan so our AUP is prepared for these questions? What do we do one a device goes missing?

As you can see, there is so much a school system needs to think about, plan for, and plan about before it even can approach funding these issues. It is no surprise why some just choose to avoid it all together with so much more that we have to worry about in education such as raising test scores.

It is going to take true leaders with real vision to see that we need to make these efforts, we need to do this planning, we have to talk and get everyone including parents, community and industry believing that if we want to move our students forward and to prepare them for the future, no minute can be wasted as we try to find ways to make technology funding real and sustainable.

“If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”  —Benjamin Franklin


1. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec11/vol69/num04/Stretching-Your-Technology-Dollar.aspx#fn1

2. http://blogs.census.gov/2012/06/21/education-funding-where-do-schools-get-their-money-how-do-they-spend-it/

3.  Are Your Ill-Informed Policies Widening The Digital Divide?, Vala Afshar, 4/15/2013, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vala-afshar/your-illinformed-policies_b_3085514.html

Greg Limperis is Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district in Lawrence, Mass.  He is the founder of the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. Greg has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st century skills.


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