School Budgets for K-12 Instructional Materials, Tech on the Rise, Survey Says

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An improving economy appears to be freeing up school districts’ ability to spend on technology and other tools and resources, including instructional materials, according to a survey of administrators.

A quarter of school district officials who responded to a survey said that they expected their instructional budgets to increase during the current school year, up from 16 percent the previous academic year, according to MDR, a market research company that tracks education trends.

In addition, roughly 90 percent of districts said they expected their 2014-15 tech budgets for hardware, software, teacher training, and technical support to stay the same or rise, according to the research. That’s a slight increase from the previous year in most of those categories.

In trying to gauge districts’ buying habits, the analysis offers a snapshot of something of a moving target. The survey information was collected in the spring of 2014, and it was based on phone and e-mail responses from school district directors of curriculum and technology, who were asked to comment on the coming academic year—meaning the one that is ongoing.

More than 500 surveys were completed, divided roughly in half between technology administrators and curriculum directors, according to MDR. The recovery from the deep recession has been slow and somewhat uneven, though there have been recent signs that the overall brightening of the economy is now helping schools, said Kathleen Brantley, the senior director of EdNet Insight, a service of MDR.

The outlook “is more optimistic this year than last year,” Brantley said. “It’s been a tough couple of years.”

Districts continue to be focused on buying instructional materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards, the survey found. More than 70 percent of districts, an increase from 68 percent the previous year, said they planned to buy new instructional materials.

In addition to improving budget conditions, other forces, such as lower fuel prices and a revamping of the federal E-rate program, could improve the flow of money to schools for digital tools and resources, Brantley said. The changes in E-rate policy, which were made last year and earlier this month by the Federal Communications Commission, and included increased support for broadband technologies in schools, occurred too late to have been included the survey, Brantley said.

MDR released highlights of the survey, and details on the methodology, to Education Week. A copy of the full analysis is available here, at a cost.

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