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Spending on Tech-Based Curriculum Jumps During the Pandemic, New Survey of IT Leaders Finds

K-12 curriculum software and subscription spending grew at a higher rate than any other technology budget area for school districts last school year, as their IT budgets mostly increased from the previous school year.

In a survey of 170 district technology leaders by the Consortium for School Networking, 62 percent of participants reported their schools’ funding for curricular software/subscriptions rose between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, with 56 percent also noting a spike in cybersecurity investment.

Another 56 percent of respondents said their district’s overall IT budget expanded, with 12 percent citing a “major” increase, according to a summary of the report.CoSNGraph

District technology leaders ranked cybersecurity as the top unmet technology need, followed by home access connectivity and interoperability.

“In a situation where even well-funded corporations in the private sector struggle to address cybersecurity issues, poorly funded districts are at a disadvantage,” CoSN said. “One respondent called the need for more cybersecurity funding as ‘desperate.’”

Cybersecurity has been a focus area for CoSN, which is one of several organizations that endorsed the Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act. That bill would set a path for the federal government to guide best practices for K-12 cybersecurity and provide cybersecurity grants to schools that could benefit certain education companies.

Congressional lawmakers have not acted to advance the bill.

Big Investments in Hybrid Learning

In addition to greater curricular software and cybersecurity spending, the majority of those surveyed also noted new technology initiatives, with 64 percent saying that they added classroom technology to support simultaneous hybrid learning, such as rotating cameras, microphones and speakers; and 60 percent reporting that they now offer a remote-only instruction option.

Further, 37 percent of tech chiefs said they added “district-wide student-facing Cloud-based applications,” such as learning management systems, to their digital ecosystems, and 23 percent of districts gave devices or extra monitors to educators for home use.

Only 2 percent of participants reported not supporting new IT initiatives or existing IT efforts that weren’t already supported pre-pandemic.

Almost all district leaders are looking to the federal government for technology funding help.

About three-quarters of those questioned plan to request support from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund for Wi-Fi hot spots, while 90 percent of respondents said infusions provided through three stimulus bills enacted over the last 17 months significantly helped remote-learning or related IT initiatives in their districts during the pandemic. (See EdWeek Market Brief’s recent, nationwide survey showing how district officials plan to spend the new, $7 billion connectivity fund overseen by the FCC.)

The three COVID stimulus packages heaped an overall $189.5 billion financial windfall on U.S. K-12 schools. Districts have until Sept. 30, 2024, to commit the last bit of that money.

Compared with the CoSN review, a recent EdWeek Market Brief survey found a slightly lower percentage – 62 percent – of 280 district administrators interviewed, planned to seek ECF reimbursement for Wi-Fi hot spots for home use. However, the CoSN survey did not specify that the hot spots sought for reimbursement pertained only to home use.

“There is a marked shift in how school district IT leaders are preparing for this fall, compared to the back-to-school survey results from last year,” CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said in a statement. “While the federal government delivered critical funding when school districts needed it most, we must now invest in cybersecurity and ensure sustainable, secure and equitable home broadband access for students and educators into the future.”

Image by Getty

Graph provided with permission from the Consortium for School Networking


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Congressional Bill Aims to Incentivize Education Companies, Schools to Sharpen Cybersecurity

A bill recently introduced in the House would help define best cybersecurity practices for K-12 vendors and outline new spending that could benefit certain education companies focused on online safety.

The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act, introduced June 17 by Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., would task the Department of Homeland Security with establishing a program to circulate K-12 cybersecurity best practices, training, and lessons learned, and with recommending online safety tools for purchase by state education agencies and school districts.

The bill calls on DHS to consult with school IT vendors and cybersecurity companies in putting together the list of best practices.

Doug Levin, the national director for the K12 Security Information Exchange is lobbying for the Matsui bill, expects significant regulatory action at the federal and state levels around K-12 cybersecurity, though it’s difficult to say exactly when that will happen. The K-12 Security Information Exchange operates the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, an online database that tracks K-12 cybersecurity incidents.

The House bill could face a steep climb to become law, as the House Education and Labor Committee currently has no plans to consider the measure, and companion legislation has yet to be introduced in the Senate.

Lawmakers failed to vote on a similar bill introduced in 2020, before the previous congressional term ended in December.

Schools are relying more on technology for remote learning, and policymakers are seeing the need to start imposing baseline internet safety expectations for school districts and vendors, he said.

With cybersecurity policies likely to tighten, school districts and government agencies will increasingly look toward education companies that have already crafted and adhere to a set of best practices for cybersecurity, Levin said.

If passed, the federal bill charts the creation of a DHS-run database that would recommend security tools and services for schools to purchase, and allow schools and states to find and apply for funding opportunities to improve cybersecurity.

H.R. 4005 doesn’t spell out how the money would be dispersed, so the federal government would likely issue further guidance on expenses that might qualify for any cybersecurity grants issued, if the legislation is enacted, Levin said.

In addition to defining best practices and outlining new channels for K-12 cybersecurity funding, the legislation proposes the development of a voluntary registry of K-12 cyberattack incidents, and would require yearly DHS reports analyzing cyber incidents across all levels of K-12.

Information to be collected into the registry may include descriptions of the incidents’ size, and whether each incident was the result of a breach, malware, distributed denial of service attack, or other method designed to cause a vulnerability.

“The bill certainly is responsive to the needs that members of Congress have been hearing from the field,” Levin said. “School districts are feeling under assault from ransomware.”

Levin has compiled data showing that many cyberattacks have targeted teacher and student data stored by education companies, not just within schools.

According to the K12 Cybersecurity Resource Center’s most recent annual report on the state of K-12 cybersecurity, at least 75 percent of all data breach incidents affecting public K-12 school districts resulted from occurrences involving school vendors and other partners.

The Federal Trade Commission has ratcheted up its focus on data breaches in K-12 recently, signaling a stricter enforcement posture toward companies that collect data on K-12 students and teachers.

Organizations endorsing the Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act include the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, the State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the Consortium for School Networking.

“As cyber criminals grow more sophisticated and aggressive, we must provide the resources and information necessary to protect our schools,” Matsui said in a statement. “The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act provides a roadmap and prepares our cyberinfrastructure for the threats of tomorrow.”

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Connect Students Online, Boost Your Country’s Gross Domestic Product?

Expanding and improving internet connectivity for schools can have a positive impact reaching beyond improving students’ access to information.

A new analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit released earlier this year finds that closing the digital divide in education can boost a country’s economy. Even simply increasing the speed of broadband for school buildings can lead to gains in a country’s gross domestic product, the authors of the report contend.

The researchers say that a quality internet connection, when used well, leads to improved academic results, which then produce higher salaries that support a healthier economy.

A 10 percent increase in school connectivity can increase the effective years of schooling for children by 0.6 percent, and raise the GDP per capita of a country by 1.1 percent, the analysis found.

“The biggest takeaway is the massive amount of potential that school connectivity has to close gaps that exist not just in education but in communities and beyond,” said Shivangi Jain, an EIU public policy consultant and lead economist.

“It gives children all over the world access to basically the same information… I don’t think any other approach has quite that same potential.”

Having access to the internet provides students a “wealth of resources” and enables new forms of learning, including through adaptive learning platforms, the report says, which plays a role in improving the quality of education students receive globally.

“Improved learning outcomes proliferate through adolescence and adulthood, leading to a wider range of higher education and career opportunities,” the report said. “Ultimately, these benefits to individuals are reflected in terms of higher incomes, better health and improved overall well-being.”

Basic Access Not Enough

However, Jain, one of the report’s authors, said governments and schools need to take steps to ensure the new connectivity is being used to its full potential, including by prioritizing digital learning education policy and overcoming barriers to integration, such as building infrastructure or obtaining devices. Access also needs to be affordable and high quality in terms of speed and reliability, the report said.

In the United States, 99 percent of schools are connected to fiber infrastructure, according to the report. But the quality of connection varies greatly among states and areas. Improving the bandwidth per student at schools nationwide to meet the country’s highest standard would increase the GDP by as much as 5.5 percent, according to the report.

In developing countries, connecting schools to the internet could have a more immediate impact on the wider community by enabling local entrepreneurship, introducing the gig economy, and providing access to online banking and improved emergency communications.

The report was sponsored by UNICEF and comes two years after the organization launched an initiative to connect every school to the internet. Globally, two-thirds of children between the ages of 3 or 17 — 1.3 billion — don’t have access to the internet.

It also comes after the U.S. approved $7 billion in federal aid for improved internet connectivity, spurred in part by the gaps in access that were spotlighted during the pandemic and schools’ abrupt pivot to remote learning. That funding, approved as part of the stimulus measure signed into law by President Biden, focus specifically on increasing students’ access to reliable internet services at home.

“This is the moment to be discussing this,” Jain said. “Children need access to connectivity regardless of where they are, and the pandemic really highlighted that … or at least enables people to see what [connectivity] can offer.”

Photo: AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

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Learning Loss During COVID Will Fuel Economic Losses, Business Leaders Predict

The impact of learning loss during the pandemic won’t just be felt in the classroom. It could also saddle the future economy.

That was the core argument put forward recently by a group of eight business leaders from North Carolina, who made a public plea for state policymakers to address students’ academic slippage during COVID.

Among their recommendations, laid out at a recent online event, were for state policymakers to set up a recurring funding stream to train all of the state’s educators, and to move from a “student tutoring model” for literacy education to a model that supports educators based on the “science of reading.”

Reading proficiency among North Carolina 3rd graders slightly worsened during the pandemic.

According to a report last month by the (Raleigh) News & Observer, accounting for 67.7 percent of 3rd-grade students who had taken midyear assessments, 75.4 percent of 3rd graders were not reading at a proficient level, compared to 73.6 percent last school year.

“Let’s be clear: This is not just a North Carolina problem,” said Kelly King, chairman and CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Truist Financial Corp., a consumer and commercial bank holding company. “This is a national problem.”

The impact of learning loss does not appear to be hitting all U.S. school communities equally. A report released by McKinsey & Company in December found that there was a 10 percent drop in average K-5 reading levels among majority-white schools during COVID, but a 23 percent drop in average K-5 reading levels among minority-majority schools.

Another participant in the North Carolina event, Honeywell Chairman and CEO Darius Adamczyk, noted that COVID has likely accelerated the need for higher educational attainment, a demand that is unlikely to abate. Honeywell, headquartered in North Carolina, is a conglomerate with a heavy focus in aerospace and building technologies, among other industries.

Investing in early reading proficiency is integral to weathering a changing economy, and for students to gain education and skills to meet the needs of businesses, Adamczyk said.

“The recommendations we’re making today will address inequities in our workforce and help us develop a strong, diverse, and resilient talent pipeline well into the future,” he said.

In addition to recommending recurring state investments in teacher training in reading, the leaders called for North Carolina policymakers to maintain and even expand funding for pre-K access in the state and to eventually accomplish the goal of enrolling 75 percent of the state’s pre-K-eligible children, and to ensure that every county hits that benchmark.

The state currently funds pre-K programs at about $154 million per year.

Fred Whitfield, president and vice chairman of Hornets Sports & Entertainment, noted that about 9,100 fewer children enrolled in North Carolina pre-K for the 2020-2021 school year compared with the previous school year, eliminating all of the enrollment gains made in the state over the last four years.

Before COVID, enrollment in the state’s pre-K had topped 31,000 children — about 50 percent of the children eligible for the program statewide, he said. Now, pre-K programs in the state are serving only 36 percent of eligible children.

A Big Focus on Pre-K

“The drop in enrollment should not be viewed as a decrease in demand or need for North Carolina pre-K,” Whitfield said. “To the contrary, although we have much to overcome, this proven high-quality program, targeted at some of our most at-risk children, is needed now, more than ever.”

In addition to calling for more support for pre-K, the business leaders are asking state officials to inflation-adjust North Carolina’s pre-K funding for the first time in nine years, to require an annual such inflation adjustment, and to modify county-state cost sharing percentages to help economically disadvantaged counties cover program costs, Whitfield said.

During their presentation, the business leaders cited a 2016 CEO action plan to support improved U.S. literacy rates put forward by Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs at leading U.S. companies.

North Carolina business leaders were inspired by the action plan to initiate several pro-education initiatives, including creation of a comprehensive aligned education system for grades pre-K-3, as well as launching a data methodology to ensure that children stay on track to achieve reading proficiency, said Dale Jenkins, CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based medical malpractice insurance provider Curi.

A “robust data system” is scheduled to roll out later this year, Jenkins said.

In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly formed the Birth through Third Grade, or B-3, Interagency Council, which is a joint council between the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The goal of the effort was to create a vision for a birth through 3rd-grade system of early education, and a system of accountability tied to it, including standards and assessment, data-driven improvement and outcomes, and teacher and administrator preparation and effectiveness.

“We’ve made progress on these goals through the B-3 Interagency Council that was created in 2017 to address these issues among others,” Jenkins said. “We applaud the General Assembly and the governor for moving this forward together.”

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How School Districts Will Spend Money From the New Federal Stimulus

How will K-12 districts spend federal stimulus funding?

School systems are expected to have broad latitude to spend money from the American Rescue Plan on classroom and non-academic needs.

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Bipartisan Legislation Would Allow E-Rate Funding for School Bus Wi-Fi

Ben Ray Lujan

A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Congress would make make E-Rate money available to support Wi-Fi on school buses, the latest of several recent recent efforts to expand student internet connectivity outside school hours.

Sens. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have introduced the legislation, which would require the Federal Communications Commission to issue regulations to make Wi-Fi access on school buses eligible for support under the E-Rate program no later than 180 days after enactment. Under the bill, schools would be reimbursed for equipping buses with Wi-Fi.

The E-Rate program is funded at $4 billion annually, and allows schools to receive reimbursement for certain internet services provided on campus.

If policymakers provide more financial support for off-campus wireless services, it could increase the ability of students to make use of companies’ ed-tech tools, apps, and platforms, including on long bus rides where students have access to laptops and other devices, if this bill gets enacted.

The bill is aimed, in part, at promoting digital equity for rural and tribal communities in states like New Mexico, according to Lujan’s office.

Approximately one-quarter of New Mexico’s over 350,000 students don’t have affordable internet, according to a statement by the New Mexico Homework Gap Team, which describes itself as an ad hoc group of professionals who support narrowing the digital divide for K-12 students in the state.

A December study by the Alliance for Excellent Education estimated that almost 17 million students nationwide lack home internet access to complete school assignments.

“For rural and tribal students who travel hours to and from school, these commutes can be valuable time accessing the internet, completing assignments, and conducting research,” Lujan said in a statement. “Empowering our schools to equip buses with Wi-Fi is an opportunity to uplift our students, tackle the homework gap, and help alleviate the financial strain that too many families are experiencing at home.”

If passed, the legislation would give schools more flexibility in terms of figuring out how they can best use ed tech to promote equity, said Amina Fazlullah, equity policy director for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting safe and effective technology use for children.

“Every community has different layers of barriers to equitable access to education related to technology,” she said in an interview. “Having that flexibility ultimately in the E-Rate program will be incredibly useful for schools where students have long commutes.”

But Fazlullah suggested that the ed-tech funding expansion outlined in the Lujan-Graham bill shouldn’t substitute for other potential federal initiatives to support costs for students’ home connectivity.

It remains to be seen whether the FCC will act decisively on some lawmakers’ and education advocates’ calls for a long-term, dedicated funding source to support students’ home connectivity.

The COVID-19 stimulus package approved earlier this month allocated $7 billion to the FCC for the creation of what is being called the “Emergency Connectivity Fund,” separate from E-Rate, to pay for high-speed internet and devices used off campus.

The commission also recently announced plans for a policy that, among many other things, would allow school districts to apply for reimbursement for costs they have paid for students and teachers to access broadband at home.

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in an interview with Education Week this month, said the agency remains in the “process of evaluating how we can update the current E-Rate program to meet the moment students and families find themselves in.” She spoke after the agency in February issued a request for public comments on whether E-Rate funds could be used to support remote learning during the pandemic.

In 2018, then a U.S. congressman, Lujan became familiar with how Wi-Fi operates on a school bus when he attended a “Rolling Study Halls” event. Hosted by Santa Fe Schools and funded by Google, the event took a Wi Fi-equipped bus to a Native American pueblo in New Mexico, Tom Ryan, chief information and strategy officer for the district, noted in an email.

In addition to Santa Fe, the Albuquerque district is one other school system that has outfitted school buses with mobile Wi-Fi units, installing hot spots on 80 buses across the area as of October.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has introduced legislation similar to the Lujan-Graham bill in the House.

The legislation has picked up endorsements from the National Education Association, Competitive Carriers Association, Free Press, Public Knowledge, School Superintendents Association, Association of Educational Service Agencies, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, National Rural Education Association, National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

Photo: Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., is pictured on June 29, 2018, visiting the Kewa Pueblo, a Native American settlement southwest of Santa Fe, N.M.  The program was called “Rolling Study Halls” which was funded by Google.


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The FCC’s $7 Billion Fund to Address the ‘Homework Gap’: 6 Key Issues to Watch

Sam Urban Wittrock, left, an advance placement World History Teacher at W.W. Samuell High School, displays a wifi hot spot that are being handed out to students in Dallas, Thursday, April 9, 2020. Dallas I.S.D. is handing out the devices along with wifi hotspots to students in need so that they can connect online for their continued education amid the COVID-19 health crisis. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Federal Communications Commission has a new $7 billion pot for schools to recoup the costs of paying for student and teacher access to broadband at home — and now the agency must figure out how to distribute the money.

Since the money came through, the FCC has started the process, recently announcing that it is formally requesting public comment for the new program aimed at addressing the so-called “homework gap.”

The COVID-19 stimulus package approved earlier this month allocated $7 billion to the FCC for the creation of what is being called the “Emergency Connectivity Fund” to pay for high-speed internet and devices used off campus.

The agency has 60 days from enactment of the relief measure to get final rules in place. That means school districts could start applying for money as early as mid-May or early June, said Reg Leichty, founding partner of the education consulting group Foresight Law+Policy.

School systems looking for help covering the costs of keeping students connected earned a major win with the federal funding, said Leichty, but it won’t serve as a long-term solution for remote learning since the money isn’t permanent.

“It’s not a comprehensive plan,” he said, “but it is a huge leap forward.”

The FCC’s request for comments about the new policy surfaced a number of key questions. They include how the $7 billion in funding can be distributed equitably; whether it should create broadband adoption goals, benchmark speeds and data thresholds; what type of devices qualify; if services and equipment can be used for educational purposes only; and what the bidding process should look like.

The answers to those questions have implications for companies across the ed-tech market — not only those focused directly on providing connectivity to schools and homes, but also those whose digital products would benefit from students being able to connect more easily.

Here are six critical issues that companies keeping track of the FCC program should watch for:

While some questions remain unanswered, this much is clear: Wi Fi hotspots, modems, routers, devices that combine a modem and router, along with laptop and tablet computers all qualify for funding.

What about smartphones? The FCC says nope, and has proposed that all eligible devices need to be able to support video conferencing platforms and other software necessary “to ensure full participation in remote learning activities.” And that’s where the FCC believes smartphones don’t make the cut, writing in the public notice that such devices do not sufficiently allow students, school staff, and library patrons to meaningfully participate in remote learning activities.”

And what about desktops? The FCC is asking for folks to weigh in on that one: “Although not specifically identified, should desktop computers be eligible for funding as ‘similar end-user devices’ that are capable of connecting to ‘advanced telecommunications and information services?’”

The FCC also wants to know if it should impose minimum system requirements for eligible devices, and whether it should require devices to be Wi-Fi enabled and have video and camera functions for remote learning. 

The FCC wants to know how far back it should allow applicants seeking funding to recoup costs. In its request for public comment, the agency’s Wireline Competition Bureau proposed that the full FCC allow eligibility to begin on Jan 27. 2020,  the date U.S. health officials determined coronavirus to be a public health emergency. But the agency also asked if  another date should be considered.

There has been some disagreement among school systems on a date, according to public comments the FCC received in a different remote learning inquiry. The FCC noted that it has received comments as part of that other inquiry from the New York City Department of Education advocating for a reimbursement period to begin in March 2020, when most schools switched to remote learning. But others, including the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, have made the case in public comments for a July 1, 2020 date that coincides with the beginning of the E-rate funding year.

Leicthy said this is a big question for the agency to answer since many districts have spent the last full year scrambling to find money to buy Wi Fi hotspots and devices, and don’t want to be “penalized when it comes to being able to offsetting those costs.

“You should be able to look back to cover some costs incurred and one reasonable way to do that is to look at the entire 2020 and 2021 school year,” he said.

Since many districts have already entered into contracts for broadband and devices for students to use at home, the FCC is proposing to allow some school systems to bypass the competitive bidding process for purposes of seeking reimbursement through the homework gap fund.

Instead of going through the formal bidding process, the FCC says it could allow those districts to simply certify that they have complied with state and local procurement requirements. 

And for those districts that have yet to purchase broadband or devices for off-campus use, the FCC is asking in its request for comments whether it should adopt a streamlined competitive bidding process, which could include reducing from 28 days to 14 days the time that a district must wait to enter into a contract with a service provider after posting an RFP. 

There’s also some disagreement among school systems and organizations about this. The FCC has established a benchmark of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream as adequate to support remote learning.

But the Los Angeles Unified School District told the agency in public comments in another remote learning inquiry that those speeds are “inadequate for supporting uninterrupted teaching and learning, particularly in households in densely populated urban areas where multiple students are often struggling to stay connected.” The L.A. school district did not specify speeds it thought would be suitable.

However, INCOMPAS, the internet and competitive networks association, a D.C.-based trade organization, wrote to the FCC recommending that the benchmark speeds of at least 25/3 as the minimum service standard.

So the FCC is asking in its request for comments if what should the downstream and upstream speed targets be? And what Internet speeds are necessary for people with disabilities who use telephone relay service and video relay services?

School districts have been vocal about the need for federal funds dedicated specifically to off-campus connectivity. 

Most were expecting that money to come from an FCC change to its longstanding position that funds from the E-Rate program can’t be used to help with internet access in students’ homes. That was the expectation after the agency initiated a request for public comment on the issue back in February. The general thinking was that the FCC would roll over unused E-rate funds to create an emergency pot of money that districts could tap sometime this spring or summer. 

But Congress all but sidelined that discussion for now by approving the $7 billion as part of the latest stimulus plan.  

So now expanding E-rate to cover off-campus connectivity needs will get put on a back burner of sorts while the FCC works through delegating the $7 billion that Congress has appropriated. The FCC is going to “wait and reassess the situation before making a decision on E-rate,” said Leichty. 

FCC Interim Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, in an interview with Education Week this month, said the agency is still reviewing comments, and remains in the “process of evaluating how we can update the current E-rate program to meet the moment students and families find themselves in.”

The FCC’s public notice cites research from a nonprofit organization that estimates it would cost between $6 billion and $12 billion to cover costs for broadband and devices in the first year. So it’s not immediately clear how long Congress’ $7 billion infusion will meet the connectivity needs of schools and families.

Demand for reimbursement is expected to be high through the first funding window, according to the FCC’s notice. But if there’s leftover money, the FCC is suggesting that a new application window be opened the second quarter of every year until the money’s gone.

Once that happens, future funding remains uncertain to help curb the cost of providing mobile Wi Fi hot spots and broadband for students. 

“This emergency connectivity fund would be the driving factor for any change over time, and if the FCC decides they need more funding they could follow up and roll over unused E-rate funds at that time,” said Leichty.  

Photo: A teacher in a Dallas high school last year displays one of the Wi Fi hot spots that were being given out to students so that they could connect online during COVID-19. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)


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How New Data-Privacy Expectations Could Impact Education Companies

State laws affecting the deletion of student information and other practices can have a big impact on education companies, says Tyler Park of the Future of Privacy Forum.

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COVID 19 Slows the Tide of K-12 RFPs, But Rebound Expected in 2021 and 2022

The number of published solicitations in K-12 declined sharply in 2020 — dropping to the lowest in almost a decade — but the education sector is poised to return to pre-pandemic levels for RFPs faster than many other government markets that buy products and services, according to GovWin from Deltek. 

Last year’s dip in solicitations was due primarily to a tectonic shift in school district spending and purchasing priorities as a result of COVID-19 and the mass move to remote learning.

Districts typically rely on RFPs and bids as part of the procurement process, but in many cases last year did not want to wait through the long process involved with those traditional purchasing vehicles. School systems also relied on sole-source (non-competitive) procurements or turned to cooperatives last year to purchase goods and services quickly, according to GovWin from Deltek, which tracks published solicitations. 

The company estimates that K-12 RFPs and bids fell off by 18.5 percent during 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to its recent “State and Local Procurement Snapshot – Q4 2020” report

Source: GovWin's market intelligence database, including state, local, and educational contracting activity.
Source: GovWin’s market intelligence database, including state, local, and educational contracting activity.

The report, which analyzed RFPs and bids from all public school districts with an enrollment of more than 500 students, says that K-12 solicitation volume is expected to grow by 13 percent this year and then almost another 5 percent in 2022 as spending and purchasing conditions normalize further. 

“Education overall is one of the markets that’s going to rebound most effectively through the next two years,” said Morgan Parkin, a research analyst for GovWin at Deltek. 

That rebound, said Parkin, has already started, fueled in part by several rounds of federal emergency dollars. 

She is forecasting that soft demand in a broad swath of K-12 spending categories should begin to reverse, and vendors could “start to notice those changes as early as now.” At the same time, solicitations for some “high priority purchases” have remained strong in recent months, according to the report. 

Two big areas Parkin said she’s noticing an uptick  for published solicitations is STEM curriculum and career-technical education programs. 

She also expects to see an increase in school districts issuing bids for assessment programs. Moving forward, districts could be issuing solicitations for a broader mix of assessment tools “coming from all types of vendors, large and small,” to better understand achievement gaps caused by the pandemic,” according to the report. 

“A major contract might get split up into smaller ones so more vendors can get in on it,” Parkin said, noting that districts might be less willing to sign with a big assessment provider for multiple years. “There’s going to be more work in assessments, but it will look a little different going in 2021 and 2022.”  

Demand should also stay steady for digital textbooks, small-scale remote learning tools, and computer equipment — all tools needed in case of another move back to distance learning. 

Rising Interest in PD, and Consulting

The report notes that vendors should “continue to watch for opportunities across all aspects of education, as this market involves a vast amount of services, supplies, systems, software, construction and maintenance. “ Districts not only have more money at their disposal now than at some points in 2020, as a result of a new federal stimulus, but more time and increased flexibility in how they use those funds. 

“Spending has returned already at the start of 2021,” Parkin said. 

Bids and RFPs issued by independent school districts rose from about 45,000 in 2014 up to 53,864 in 2019, for a compounded annual growth rate of 3.6 percent.

In 2020, the total was 43,903, which was the lowest since 2012, according to data from GovWin from Deltek. 

GovWin from Deltek provides business customers with market intelligence and leads on federal, state, local, and education government contracting. A recent analysis by the organization of contracting in the K-12 and higher education markets can be found here. (EdWeek Market Brief partners with GovWin from Deltek’s searches as a source for Purchasing Alerts, our twice-weekly breakdowns of education-focused RFPs from around the country.)

Through 2020, schools showed a strong interest in procuring supplies and safety products. But as the year progressed, so did district needs, as more schools issued bids for COVID testing services and there was a stronger focus on consulting and professional development, according to GovWin from Deltek.

Parkin said she expects the trend from 2020 of districts using cooperative purchasing to continue, but that school systems will likely rely on sole-source procurements with less frequency since they have more money and are no longer facing do-or-die timelines for purchases. 

Also, Parkin anticipates that a trend in districts making more contract opportunities available to minority and women-owned businesses will continue. 

And she has a message for vendors: Virtual sales pitches and demonstrations are still in demand, based on RFPs in 2021 that Parkin has analyzed, even as the pandemic subsides.

“Schools will be more willing to entertain the option of a virtual presentation,” she said. “I’ve seen more bids and RFPs that list it as an option, so that won’t be gone completely even as the world returns to normal in terms of spending.” 

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