K-12 School Budget Priorities for 2020: Reduce Costs & Plan for EdTech

Picture of Tara Gibson By Tara Gibson

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K-12 School Budget Priorities for 2020Planning out your K-12 school budget and searching for ways to cut costs are two things discussed by school districts across the country every year. Decision makers look for efficient ways to streamline school operations and save valuable pennies without putting students, faculty, staff, and parents at a disadvantage.

This is often easier said than done!

So, what is the purpose of a K-12 school budget? The AASA White Paper: School Budgets 101 explains the role of a school budget as, “a district’s plan for the upcoming year as related to anticipated revenues and expenditures. School budgets allow districts to translate sometimes intangible missions, operations and objectives into reality by outlining and providing specific programs and funding/financial terms.” A school budget is much more than allotted funds for textbook upgrades and supporting classroom supplies for teachers. There are multiple categories to consider, including:

  • Transportation ‐ buses and drivers to transport students
  • Facilities - to ensure students attend schools that are clean and well maintained
  • Energy ‐ the school is lit during the day, heated in the winter and cooled in the summer
  • Health and Safety ‐ the school nurse cares for ill students, and security measures keep staff and students safe
  • Instruction ‐ students have a qualified teacher, teachers have instructional aides, and classrooms have supplies
  • Curriculum and Staff Development ‐ curriculum, training and instructional support to ensure teachers can provide students with necessary knowledge and skills
  • Food Services ‐ nutritious and affordable breakfast and lunch
  • Library Services ‐ the library full of resources and librarian/staff provide research assistance and resources
  • Counseling Services ‐ counselors for testing prep, college prep, drug/alcohol abuse programs, and supporting family needs in seeking outside counseling
  • School Leadership and Support - principal, assistant principals and administrative support staff
    (List from AASA)

Another Good Read: Is the Best Use Being Made of Security Budgets in Schools?

With the many moving parts that make up a K-12 school district, it’s important to consider ways you can cut costs to make room for new updates needed for your schools.

Making Room in Your K-12 School Budget

Below are a few things schools and districts have done to slim down yearly costs.

  1. Target School Utility Costs
    Utility costs can certainly add up if you’re a large school district with many buildings. If you’re able to bring down some of your electricity costs from lighting and building equipment, that could free up some room in your school budget. According to School Leaders Now, a district in Grapevine-Colleyville found that the lightbulbs in all of their buildings were not energy efficient. “A company was hired to help encourage more energy-minded behavior, from decreasing water usage to making sure all lights were turned off at night. Together those strategies lowered the district’s utility bills from $4.7 million in 2011–12 to $3.3 million this past year (2017).”
  2. Contracting & Sharing Services
    Contracting services, or outsourcing, is essentially utilizing services from outside organizations. This can be a great way for a school district to maximize their school budget by cutting costs on services such as food & nutrition, transportation, security, custodial services, maintenance, tutoring, and more. School districts can also share the contracting services with other local districts. A study found, “potential savings across the country from shifting just a quarter of non-instructional services to shared services could potentially yield savings in the range of $9 billion.”
  3. Go Green!
    Many schools strive to “go green” especially around Earth Day but going green all year long can save a school a lot by just cutting down on printing and paper costs. Consider sending voice and text messages or emails home to parents instead of printing and handing out field trip permission slips and homework reminders - even report cards can now be digital! Utilizing your school notification system can make saving money on paper and printing easy. 
  4. Online Schools & eTextbooks
    K-12 school districts often receive funding from the state based on the number of students enrolled. The Grapevine-Colleyville district launched a virtual school in 2013 which boosted their number of students enrolled to almost 14,000. “The virtual campus within the district teaches students from all over the state. The expansion was a way to increase state funding and service a larger number of students with fewer teachers, resulting in cost savings.” K-12 schools also save money and utilize online schooling when choosing to host Summer School online instead of on school grounds. Some schools have also chosen to switch from traditional textbooks to eTextbooks. Governing tells us “Traditional textbooks cost California $350 million annually. By transitioning to online textbooks, the state hopes to encourage student participation in virtual learning while radically reducing textbook costs.”

Planning for EdTech

Making room in your school budget for new EdTech is important for any school decision maker or superintendent. With technology continuing to expand to help with school safety, online learning, STEM programs, and more, it’s important to make the most of your school budget to allow for these new technologies to benefit your staff, teachers, and most importantly, your students. In a recent webinar, Strategic Technology Planning and Investment, hosted by edWeb.net and a part of CoSN’s Empowered Superintendent series, three superintendents discussed and explained the different ways they plan financially for technology.

Understanding the Total Cost of Ownership

Although many may choose to look at the price tag and think that’s that, these three superintendents explain you must understand the total cost of implementing a new technology or software. “Total cost of ownership is not just the cost at the beginning but the total cost over the years of the program. Most educators look at the cost of their devices and software, but the total cost includes professional development, technical support and sustainability costs.”

Balancing Student Outcomes and Budget Management

K-12 school districts need to find a happy medium between balancing the desired impact and learning goals for both students and teachers with a realistic budget. One school district avoided grants because many of their teachers would need training and assistance when using new digital tools. Instead, the district applied for grant money for technology coaches. A superintendent came across challenges when looking at the value of technology for the students vs. the cost. His district “decided to stop hosting applications on-site and moved them to the cloud. In addition, the district transitioned to e-books to save on cost. The district has slowly built everything into the budget, and after seven years he said budget lines are steady.”

Prioritize the Value of Investment

School districts should always base their spending on specific goals and strategic priorities. EdScoop gives this priority example: if you want to be able to measure student outcomes based on new technology initiatives, then your school board needs to reprioritize and invest in that goal. Many K-12 schools are making school safety the priority, with the unfortunate growth in school shootings, bullying and cyberbullying, and natural disasters. Easy-to-use panic button applications and K-12 communication solutions are both technologies school districts are including in their school budgets to ensure the safety of all staff, students, and faculty.

Is your priority school safety? Learn more about our K-12 suite of communication solutions and incorporate those in your school budget today!

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Written by Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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