Published in September 2010 issue of the AALF.org newsletter
In the United States, there are over 125,000 K-12 schools across 50 states. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 41 of those states are already experiencing mid-year budgetary shortfalls in 2010, and the shortfalls are projected to worsen in 2011. Public K-12 schools receive a large portion of their funding from state taxes, and are therefore forced to make budget cuts. As a result technology budgets, which are unfortunately often viewed as expendable, retract. So in a recessionary environment of declining funding, how do you convince the funders that technology is important? Here you will find a list of five compelling reasons for interested parties to support your technology initiative. Afterwhich you will find specific tips on how to identify new funding streams.
1) Change the Argument
In order to secure funding for technology, you are going to need to wage a compelling argument that explains why technology is important in schools. Test scores are not the answer! There is very little valid research that actually draws a connection between technology usage and increasing test scores. That's the government's battle, not yours. You will get much further by crafting a connection between your technology initiative to the future economic development of the workforce, and ultimately the economic health of the state.
2) It's an economic question
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 become a skilled and competitive workforce. New entrepreneurs can work from anywhere, start businesses, and bring new growth opportunities to rural markets.
3) It's a question of globalization
According to Deloitte LLP, only 22% of high school students feel schools have done an "excellent" job of 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.
4) It's a moral question
In a recent survey, 75% of educators classified themselves as "often in need" or "desperate for" technology resources. A well-documented achievement gap exists in our school systems nationwide. Schools need access to technology so that students can develop the skills they need to thrive. It's a question of relevance.85% of teens ages 12-17 engage in some form of electronic personal communication, including text messaging, emailing, or online social networking. Relevant technology tools will inspire our students to learn and engage in education.
5) Core Issues
Every year, 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 Technologyreports 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 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.
It is important to note that a dramatic increase in technology expenditures requires identifying new funding streams, and/or redirecting old ones. Here are some specific tips and ideas on how to craft your funding argument.
Power of Stories
If you are trying to secure funding for technology, be sure to tell lots of stories, even if they just outlines small successes. It is much easier for a decision maker to fund a "human interest" story than it is to fund a piece of equipment. This works incredible well with politicians. If you ever get the opportunity to appeal to the legislature, 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 in order to prepare for college and get a job. Remember, you are not trying to put technology in schools, rather you are preparing students for their future workforce in the global economy. You are fighting for America's future.
Craft an Economic Development Argument
If graduates from the local school system are properly prepared with adequate technology skills, then the 9/10 businesses that need savvy 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 a downstream effect of promoting the economic development and future growth of an entire community. It sparks systemic change.
Craft a Financial Argument
For rural states, consider the cost to the state for every student that graduates from high school, then leaves the state to attend college and doesn't return. For each student that staysin the local area, they 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). If your state suffers from the "Brain Drain" of declining population, then based on average salary rates in your state, you can calculate an annual financial gain to the tax base, and to the local economy, for each student that decides to "stay local". Every 1% of students who stay, contributes $XX.XX to tax base each year, and contributes $XXXX to the local economy annually. Over the lifetime, a single family can bring an additional $XXX to your state. Hard numbers are what politicians need, to justify re-allocation of funding.
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 bullet points with your funders. It will look something like this: "...students aren't savvy, local businesses can't hire, those that are savvy will leave and never return..."
What's 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 1-to-1 computing into schools. It's a sure bet that you'll be able to craft a true and compelling statement such as, "Less than one half of 1% of the total education budget will put a computer on the desk of every single middle and high school student in the state." You will quickly realize how small that percentage really is.
Use Training Budgets for Hardware
Many schools have a surplus of training money, and a deficit of hardware funding. Consider how you write your purchase orders. Could you work with a hardware vendor that also provides professional development? If so, then quote your purchase orders as, "Training with free hardware" and your technology purchases might suddenly qualify for training budgets. Qualifications will be different for each funding source, so see if this is allowable.
Develop the Notion of "Property"
The effective life of a computer is approximately 4 years in a school. Consider also that the effective career of a student through your school is probably similar. Turn over the computer's "Pink slip" as a bonus to the student at graduation. It not only saves the cost of disposal, but the students will take much better care of the equipment if they know it's "theirs when they graduate". It's an added motivation to stay in school, at a time when the drop-out rate is so dramatically high. The #1 most common benefit cited by schools who deploy 1:1 computing is "...increases in student engagement."
Target the Copy Budget
Consider the savings of a paperless system. Re-develop your school newsletter by email and save money on copies. The copy budget would be dramatically reduced, in fact slashed, if all of your students suddenly turned in their work electronically. There's also a fantastic "Green" argument to saving trees and reducing your footprint.
Target the Textbook Budget
It will take a major re-work in the school's curriculum to eliminate even a single textbook, but consider the long-term cost analysis of textbook purchases versus computer purchases.
If your school has "school-wide" designation for Title 1, then you can use Title 1 funds for school-wide computer purchases. These regulations may vary by state.
Consider that if you send the computers home at night, and allow the parents to use them too, that the student computers can become family computing centers that support the technical proficiency of the entire family. Schools may ask parents to co-fund the computer and/or provide insurance for loss or damage each year. There are additional usage policy requirements to enforce, but you may find it's worth it for the co-funding that parents can provide.
And Finally...Fundraise on Digital Wish
Invite your teachers to make their technology wish list at www.digitalwish.org, then invite parents and community members to donate!
Heather Chirtea, firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Director, Digital Wish
Digital Wish is on a mission to solve technology shortfalls in American classrooms. We work in local schools to integrate technology in the classroom. www.digitalwish.orgis a dynamic website where teachers can post their technology wishes, and donors can contribute technology to needy classrooms. Flip Video camcorders are available to US schools through a 2-for-1 matching program. In the past year, Digital Wish brought technology grants to over 13,000 classrooms and they maintain a vibrant community of over 35,000 educators.