Blurry Lines Around K-12 Funding Means Schools Have Options to Pay for Ed-Tech Products

across boundaries conferenceRecently at the LearnLaunch Across Boundaries conference in Boston, a moderator posed a question to a panel I attended that made me think:

Digitization breaks down the buckets of funding. Do these blurry lines help or hurt ed-tech companies?

When I started Listenwise, I thought the breakdown of budgets would re-position a lot of funding away from the large textbook companies and toward new ed-tech companies like Listenwise. That hasn’t fully happened yet, but it has created blurry budget lines between the buckets. 

Matt Gross, CEO of Newsela, said on the panel that he sees blurry lines as an opportunity. And he believes it’s going to take time for the lines to be redrawn.

I agree with this perspective and have come to see blurry lines as an opportunity.

Buyers of Listenwise Premium subscriptions use funds from a variety of sources. Sometimes educators find money from the English/language arts budget, sometimes Title I for English learners, sometimes library budgets, or budgets for supplemental materials. Only rarely does a budget specifically for ed-tech tools come into play, as most schools have not re-positioned their funds to reflect the growing spend on ed-tech. The blur is an opportunity because there isn’t a budget line for listening (at least not yet) and therefore funding can come from a variety of sources.

Another ed-tech CEO, Rob Waldron of Curriculum Associatessaid he doesn’t care about blurry lines because his company’s product is evolving so quickly. He said Curriculum Associates released 60 versions of iReady last year alone.

I can relate to that. Last year, we added a new listening comprehension quiz feature last year (assessment budget), 100 new lessons (ELA and social studies budget) and now have 1,400 curated public radio stories (library budget).

What can be difficult is to know who to target when you have a small sales staff. Should you use your limited marketing and sales muscle to try and reach the director of bilingual education or should you target the curriculum coordinator for ELA?

One school pulled together resources from its ELA and social studies budgets to purchase a school site license of Listenwise. This can present challenges for implementation, use, and a renewal. Do the ELA teachers embrace Listenwise more than their social studies colleagues? Will this hurt the renewal?

When you are making a sale, you’re often tempted to not worry too much about where the money comes from–just get the purchase order. But I’ve been learning the source of the money plays an important role in renewal.

That’s why blurry lines could be a problem.

In the end, Jack Lynch, CEO of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said it best: “Our portfolio is a blurry line mess.”

It’s clearly a mess we are all sorting out, no matter the size and scale of your company.

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