Challenges and Solutions in a Post-Pandemic Landscape
This action-oriented report delves into the critical issues facing K-12 educational institutions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the realm of 1:1 student device programs. As educational technology evolves, schools encounter complex challenges related to sustainability, fiscal responsibility, and equitable access. The report identifies these challenges and offers innovative solutions to ensure the long-term viability of 1:1 initiatives. From extending the lifespan of school devices and navigating fiscal cliffs to uncovering hidden costs and fostering sustainability through various operational models, this executive summary provides a comprehensive overview of the report’s key findings. By examining both immediate concerns and forward-thinking strategies, educational leaders and stakeholders will gain valuable insights into transforming emergency-driven actions into sustainable, intentional, and equitable digital learning environments.
The Need to Extend Device Lifespan
- Built-in expiry dates of school devices, otherwise known as end-of-life (EOL) dates, pose financial and environmental challenges as they necessitate recurring replacements.
- It is recommended to form lifecycle plans based on the device’s EOL, as using them past this point can compromise security and software functionality.
- The real-world durability of these devices can differ from their promised lifespans, highlighting the importance of effective repair systems in schools to extend device life and reduce both e-waste and costs.
Easing the Fiscal Cliff
- The “fiscal cliff” refers to the funding gap schools will face when Elementary and Secondary Schools Education Relief (ESSER) funds expire in September 2024, a situation exacerbated by the use-it-or-lose-it nature of the funds and other financial pressures such as declining enrollment and inflation.
- More than 40% of Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) have used ESSER funds to address the digital divide, particularly through 1:1 device programs which are ongoing expenses rather than one-time capital expenditures.
Hidden Costs of a 1:1 Program
- Implementing a 1:1 program involves hidden costs beyond device purchases, including supplemental accessories such as chargers and cases.
- Repair parts, professional development, content applications, energy usage and additional staff are among the hidden costs associated with 1:1 programs.
- CoSN’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) methodology, including the TCO Assessment Tool, can provide insights to evaluate and manage the expenses of sustaining a 1:1 program.
Moving from Emergency Planning to Intentionality
- Rob Dickson, CIO for Wichita Public Schools, highlights the importance of adapting quickly to meet digital equity and accessibility needs during emergencies.
- Creative solutions, such as student tech teams, emerged as effective responses to immediate challenges and should be considered for long-term institutionalization in 1:1 programs.
Devices: An Operational Expense or a Capital Expense?
- Traditionally, technology spending has fallen under CapEx due to historical budget models, but there are compelling reasons to consider shifting the purchase of replacement devices to OpEx for sustainability.
- Funding devices through OpEx is more practical and aligns better with the recurring nature of technology expenses, offering a pay-as-you-go model that minimizes financial risk or waste for school districts.
Lifecycle Maintenance: Strategic Planning
- Building a financially sustainable 1:1 student device program involves key considerations like stakeholder collaboration for input on device choice, inventory assessment to fill gaps and plan device lifecycles, and creating supportive policies for device management and disposal.
- Data analysis is crucial for tailoring procurement plans, addressing digital inequities and maintaining fiscal responsibility.
- Product review should consider device interoperability, EOL dates and repairability to ensure financially smart and sustainable device selections.
- This section discusses three repair models for school tech programs: Outsourcing Repairs, In-House Technology Teams, and Student Technology Teams
- A hybrid approach may be best, taking into account factors like school size and tech needs. Data collection on device issues can help with identifying which repair system(s) to implement.
- Engaging students in the technology repair process not only saves labor costs but also offers educational benefits, like college credits and certifications.
Available Federal Funding (Beyond ESSER)
- This section outlines various federal funding sources beyond pandemic-specific funds like ESSER, targeting the enhancement of 1:1 digital programs in education.
- Different government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and federal programs such as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) offer support, either directly by purchasing devices or indirectly by subsidizing internet connectivity.
- Long-term initiatives like the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) which provides broadband investments, and the Digital Equity Act which aims to tackle the digital divide, free up school budgets for other educational priorities.
Author: Monet Massac, 2023 Charles Blaschke Scholarship Fellow