Schools See Tech Budgets Stagnate, Decline

Leadership and vision will likely elevate technology in the school system, but strong commitments from the community along with the proper funding are also critical. The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and Grunwald Associates evaluated the K-12 educational community’s capacity to use technology effectively and found divides in digital leadership among school districts of different sizes, along with stalled tech budgets.

The March 2004 survey of 455 school district decision-makers found that 62 percent had their tech budgets decrease or stay the same over the past three years, despite recognizing the educational value of computers. Small school districts measured significant increases to their technology budgets, but a greater number of large school districts reported increases of any size.

Tech Budget Changes Over Last Three Years
Increase Decrease Stay the Same
Small 40% 28% 32%
Medium 36% 34% 30%
Large 41% 32% 27%
Total 39% 33% 29%
Small = less than 2,500 students; medium = 2,501 to 24,999 students; and large = more than 25,000 students.
Source: CoSN and Grunwald Associates

An overwhelming 80 percent of survey respondents reported that technology budget cuts forced them to decrease equipment on supplies; 63 percent have had to postpone laptop programs; and 49 percent have had to cut staff.

Small, medium, and large school districts have each made distinct sacrifices. Nearly half (48 percent) of medium-sized school districts were less likely to explore online learning opportunities because of tech budget cuts, compared to 27 percent of large school districts and 26 percent of small school districts; 38 percent of large school districts have tapped into reserve funds, vs. 28 percent of medium and 16 percent of small school districts; one-quarter of small-sized school districts have postponed textbook or core instructional purchases, compared to 8 percent of large districts and 15 percent of medium districts.

Dwindling budgets are not the only impediment to technology adoption, according to Peter Grunwald, president, Grunwald Associates, as the study found that visionary leadership coupled with an aggressive development of community and parental support motivated the most technological advancements in schools.

“School districts that want healthy technology budgets should focus not just on getting support from parents, but on parents’ tangible participation in the decision-making process,” said Grunwald, president. Grunwald suggested that school districts should not only court parental participation but should also actually involve parents in how the budgets are allocated.

The report measured a correlation between community support and technology budget increases. When respondents were asked to measure community support for dedicating financial resources to technology purchases, 53 percent said that the community was more supportive today compared to three years ago. Support jumped to 70 percent among the districts that reported budget increases, and dropped to 30 percent for districts reporting budget decreases.

When looking toward the future, 39 percent expected technology budgets to increase over the next 1 to 3 years, while 34 percent predicted stagnancy. Just 22 percent anticipated a decrease. Expectations were in direct proportion to whether survey respondents experienced previous tech budget increases, decreases, or flattening.

Tech Budget Views of the Future
Increase Decrease Stay the Same
Reported previous decreases 17% 41% 31%
Reported previous no change 42% 16% 40%
Reported previous increases 56% 10% 32%
Source: CoSN and Grunwald Associates

“From an overall policy standpoint there is a surprising level of optimism in the school technology budget, but that optimism is contained within schools that have already done well. There are a good proportion of school districts that also think there are even better days to come,” noted Grunwald.

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