By Heather Chirtea
Executive Director, Digital Wish
We are all feeling the crunch of declining school funding. Technology budgets, which are often viewed as expendable, can take a big hit. In order to secure funding for technology it is necessary to provide a compelling argument to decision makers, explaining why technology is critical to education. You will be hard pressed to find a conclusive body of research that actually draws a connection between technology usage and increased test scores. So, in a recessionary environment of declining funding, how do you convince funders that technology is important?
Change the argument! Test scores are not the answer.
Argue for Economic Development
Try crafting a connection between your technology initiative and the future economic development of the workforce and your community.
Consider this: if students are tech-savvy, then businesses hiring technology workers will be able to hire locally and sustain or grow their operations. Graduates who find local jobs will stay in local communities, raise families, buy houses, contribute to the tax base, and start new local businesses. A technologically rounded education has the downstream effect of promoting the economic development and future growth of an entire community. It sparks systemic change.
Companies and colleges are spending an estimated $17 billion per year to train recent graduates in the basic skills they should have gained in school. Students need technological competence to succeed in the competitive workforce. New entrepreneurs can work from anywhere, start businesses, and bring new growth opportunities to local communities.
Talk about Globalization
America's position in the flattened global economy has declined and shortfalls in the technical workforce are hurting American businesses. Just ask your local businesses. According to Deloitte LLP, only 22% of high school students feel schools have done an "excellent" job preparing them for college. In order to remain competitive in global markets, our school systems must prepare our students with the skills they need to compete globally.
Raise a Moral Question
In a 2007 survey, 75% of educators classified themselves as "often in need of" or "desperate for" technology resources. Bob Stevens, the Executive Director of the Vermont Principal's Association stated that the lack of technology in the classroom can be likened to "educational malpractice." Schools need access to technology so that students can develop the skills they need to thrive.
Point out Relevance
85% of teens ages 12-17 engage in some form of electronic personal communication, including text messaging, emailing, or online social networking. Yet students are faced with a pencil-and-paper education. Relevant technology tools will inspire our students to learn and engage in their education.
Discuss Student Engagement
"...Increases in student engagement" are the #1 most common benefit cited by schools who employ one-computer-per-child initiatives. Here is a one idea to present. The effective life of a computer in a school is approximately 4 years. The effective career of a student through your school is probably similar. You might want to turn over the computers' "pink slips" to students as a bonus upon graduation. This not only saves the cost of disposing obsolete equipment, but students will take much better care of equipment they know is "theirs when they graduate". It is also an added motivation to stay in school at a time when the drop-out rate is so dramatically high.
Focus on Workforce Development
As technology funding erodes, our teachers become progressively less able to prepare students for future employment in the rapidly expanding global economy. The Journal of Industrial Technology reports that over the past 2 decades, enrollment in technical degrees has decreased by as much as 11%, while the demand for technical workers has risen by 29%. Businesses are sounding the alarm. Without students receiving adequate exposure to technology in schools, it becomes increasingly difficult to find and hire technologically qualified graduates from the local economy. It's a silent and cumulative crisis that now threatens to undermine our children's future.
If we don't, then...
Consider what's going to happen to your school and town if you don't modernize schools with technology. Brainstorm the worst-case scenario, then share the story with your potential funders. It will sound something like this, "...if our students aren't savvy, local businesses can't hire. Those who are savvy will leave and never return because there are no job opportunities..."
It is much easier for a decision maker to fund a "human interest" story than a piece of equipment. This works incredibly well with politicians. If you ever get the opportunity to appeal to your school board or local legislator, don't do the presentation yourself. Rather, invite a few students to speak on your behalf. Let the students explain why they need technological skills to prepare for college and get a job. Remember, you are not trying to put technology in schools, rather you are preparing students for the future workforce in the global economy. You are fighting for your children's future!
Craft a Financial Argument
Many rural states experience a "Brain Drain" wherein graduates leave to attend college and don't return. Consider the financial effect on the state's tax base. Each student who stays in the local area will get a job, raise a family, buy a house, and contribute to the local tax base (which in most states contributes directly to education funding). Regardless of whether your state suffers from a "Brain Drain," you can calculate the annual financial gain to the tax base and local economy based on average salary rates in your state for each student who decides to "stay local." Every 1% of students who stay contribute $XX.XX to the tax base and $XX.XX to the local economy each year. Over a lifetime, a single family can bring an additional $XX.XX to your community. Hard numbers are what decision makers need to justify re-allocating funds. Remember, a savvy student can work from anywhere.
Calculate the Percent of Total Spending
Calculate the total education budget in your funding region (school, district, or state), then consider what percentage of that budget would be necessary to put a computer in every student's backpack. It is a sure bet that you will be able to craft a true and compelling statement such as, "Less than one half of 1% of the total education budget would put a computer on the desk of every single student in our district." You will quickly realize how small that percentage really is.
You may republish this article and the images (together) in your newsletter, as long as you include the following credit:
By Heather Chirtea, Executive Director, Digital Wish, firstname.lastname@example.org
Digital Wish is on a mission to solve technology shortfalls in American classrooms. Invite your teachers to make their technology wish lists at www.digitalwish.org, then invite parents and community members to donate. Flip video cameras are available to US schools through a 2-for-1 matching program. Digital Wish has brought technology grants to over 22,000 classrooms and maintains a vibrant community of over 50,000 educators.