District leaders are pessimistic about their tech budgets for the fall because of a COVID-19 financial squeeze, according to new survey data.
The Consortium for School Networking, a nonprofit representing K-12 ed-tech leaders, has released findings from a survey of district IT officials that paints a potentially gloomy picture for tech spending during the upcoming school year.
Most of the major findings in the CoSN report align with recent EdWeek Market Brief survey results measuring how the coronavirus has affected ed-tech vendor strategies and district officials’ buying priorities. Those surveys show IT vendors citing a slowing of sales following the pandemic outbreak and district leaders expecting their budgets to shrink due to legislatures pulling back funding and state tax revenues taking a hit.
The CoSN survey found that 42 percent of district officials said their spending on classroom tech is likely to decrease in the fall, compared to 21 percent who said it will rise.
Conducted in late May, CoSN’s survey included responses from 227 district IT leaders, three-quarters of whom were from districts with fewer than 10,000 students.
According to the report, given the current conditions it’s no surprise that district tech leaders are already concerned about IT funding. And the report also comes with a caveat of sorts, which is that forecasting district tech spending remains unpredictable in a COVID-19 era.
“In a few short months, we’ll know what the school year will actually look like. A second wave of COVID-19, for example, will require another pivot,” the survey noted. “So while these survey results suggest what school may look like for the coming school year, we just don’t know. As one respondent said in offering answers to the survey, ‘All info are best guesses, but the crystal ball won’t boot.’”
‘We Need Financial Help ASAP’
Most district tech leaders expect to see IT budgets slashed, and about a quarter believe their budgets will stay the same. However, highlighting the lingering uncertainty, more than a tenth of respondents — 11 percent — said that they have no clue what lies ahead.
A few survey respondents offered eye-catching comments. One district tech leader described district budget conditions as “dire.” Another whose district is cutting programs, jobs and major course offerings offered the following: “We need financial help ASAP.”
Tech Spending On The Rise: Devices, Curriculum Software and Cybersecurity
Laptops and tablets, followed by curriculum software and subscriptions — both needed to facilitate online learning — make up the two biggest drivers of projected increased district tech outlays for the fall.
Roughly a third of district tech leaders also anticipate having more money for Internet access and cybersecurity.
While it still remains unclear how much instruction will take place in physical classrooms next school year, districts are getting ready to teach in a blended environment that once again could rely heavily on online learning. That means IT vendors can expect spending on classroom technology equipment not related to devices to be curbed. In particular, there is likely to be less money spent on audio and visual gear, according to the CoSN survey.
Professional development is also an area that stands out: 30 percent of respondents said they expect budgets to decrease, while more than a quarter believe there will be an uptick in spending.
Per the survey: “The reduction in PD spending shows some alignment with the 25% expecting decreases in their staffing budgets. If cuts in PD are related to cuts in staffing, the staffing issue is the larger concern.” However, a silver lining on that note: most districts that responded to the survey — 61 percent — don’t expect changes to IT staffing.