IT in a Time of Budget Cuts How School Funding Will Affect the Quality of Education

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States are in the worst financial situation in 50 years. Collectively, they are running budget deficits in the range of $50 billion. While large states like California and New York account for the bulk of this revenue shortfall, the economic downturn and its dramatic result on tax revenues has affected states nationwide. Even states like Kansas now face budget deficits equal to nearly 25% of their entire budget. With state finances in unprecedented trouble, school districts are bracing for intensified budget cuts. Just as in the private sector, most of these cuts will occur in capital budgets — and that means in information technology.

Dramatic cuts in IT spending could have significant long-term effects on educational outcomes. Studies have demonstrated that up-to-date and well-integrated hardware and software can improve educational outcomes. Similarly, mastery of technology itself is now an important part of the learning process. Work activity increasingly centers on the Internet and other technological tools. Thus, students entering the workforce without exposure to these tools are at a profound disadvantage compared to those with technology experience. In a labor market that could be tight for the foreseeable future, this could turn into a significant national, social and economic concern.

Compliance With Legal and Regulatory Issues

While budgetary issues intensify, legal and regulatory issues are also taking on a larger profile. Many of the events from the last few years have heightened the need to guarantee that schools are safe and secure places. Technology itself has intensified this concern, with the Internet and e-mail providing new avenues for inappropriate and possibly dangerous activities during school hours. Laws such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) have focused administrators on addressing this issue — most often through the use of additional technologies like network management and filtering software. Compliance with these laws and regulations has also taken on a budgetary dimension. Meeting the demands of CIPA and other laws opens the door to E-Rate and other federal monies.

The need to balance these demands and make them work for children, staff and parents is the responsibility of IT administrators and coordinators. They are the ones who have to make the difficult decisions that will impact the learning environment in significant ways on a daily basis. Yet for all their responsibility, IT administrators’ concerns are usually not part of the public discussion about school funding priorities; though they should be.

California Technology Challenge

To begin bringing some shape to that voice, Lightspeed Systems’ Education Solutions Program conducted a survey and follow-up interview with 40 IT administrators and coordinators in California’s K-12 public school districts in September 2002. The districts were large and small, urban and rural. The results of the “California K-12 Technology Challenges Survey” were presented at the California Educational Technology Professionals Association Conference in October 2002.

Conclusion

California K-12 IT administrators’ and coordinators’ top five challenges can be broken down into two major categories: money and security. It is clear that public school IT administrators are very concerned about their ability to afford the tools to do the job. The unusually high percentages of those expressing concern about the top five issues — the highest percentages in any survey ever conducted by Lightspeed’s Education Solutions Program — indicate the seriousness of the issues as seen by those in the field.

Decisions made in the near future, regarding school funding, will have long-term effects on the quality of education students receive and their career preparation that increasingly relies on the use of technological tools. IT administrators, as reflected by the concerns of those in California, have an important story to tell; and it’s more important than ever that this story is heard by public decision makers.

Contact Information
Lightspeed Systems
Bakersfield, CA
(877) 447-6244
www.lightspeedsystems.com


The “California K-12 Technology Challenges Survey” asked about 10 potential IT challenges. The following are the five most important challenges faced by California K-12 IT administrators and coordinators in public school districts:

1. Managing the budget and funding

2. Adequate student information systems

3. Software licensing verification

4. Network security

5. Student and staff e-mail account management

Analysis

Managing the budget and funding. Budget issues top the list of IT administrators’ concerns, with 97% of respondents considering sufficient resources somewhat or critically important. This response is not surprising, given California’s deep state budget troubles.

Adequate student information systems. IT administrators are concerned that budget issues could impact their ability to ensure students have access to the equipment and software they need, with 95% of respondents naming adequate student information systems as their main challenge.

Software licensing verification. The third most important issue, cited by 95% of respondents as somewhat or critically important, is software licensing verification. On the basis of individual interviews, we concluded that this is another resource issue. However, administrators are concerned that vendors will use licensing verification to raise licensing fees.

Network security. Following resource issues, network security is a major concern for IT administrators, with 92% of respondents considering this a somewhat or critically important issue. According to interviews, much of this concern is connected to the need to demonstrate Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) compliance.

Student and staff e-mail. Finally, 92% of respondents consider staff and student e-mail management as a somewhat or critically important issue. Interviews indicated two primary concerns with e-mail in the schools. The first concern is the volume of e-mail, especially spam. The volume of spam is growing exponentially and has become a huge productivity drain on staff as well as students. In some cases, the volume of spam is so great that it saps a significant amount of available bandwidth, negatively impacting the overall performance of the network. The second concern is the nature of e-mail, including spam, because a high percentage of spam is pornographic or otherwise offensive. Since e-mail is covered by CIPA, spam and other inappropriate e-mail threaten CIPA compliance and, with it, much needed federal monies.


Below is the complete list of the California school districts and offices of education that participated in the survey.

Participant School Districts/Offices of Education:

  • Acalanes Union High School District
  • Alameda Unified School District
  • Centralia School District
  • Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District
  • Elk Grove Unified School District
  • Empire Union Elementary School District
  • Folsom Cordova Unified School District
  • Fontana Unified School District
  • Hollister Elementary School District
  • Kings Canyon Unified School District
  • Kings County Office of Education
  • Kingsburg High School District
  • Lodi Unified School District
  • Los Angeles County Office of Education
  • Los Banos Unified School District
  • Madera County Office of Education
  • Menifee Union School District
  • Merced County Office of Education
  • Moorpark Unified School District
  • Moreno Valley Unified School District
  • Morton School District No. 214
  • Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District
  • Murrieta Valley Unified School District
  • Oxnard Union High School District
  • Pasadena Unified School District
  • Rialto Unified School District
  • Riverside Unified School District
  • Rosedale Union School District
  • San Benito County Office of Education
  • San Bernardino City Unified School District
  • San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools
  • San Joaquin County Office of Education
  • San Jose Unified School District
  • San Luis Coastal Unified School District
  • Stanislaus County Office of Education
  • Tracy Unified School District
  • Tulare County Office of Education
  • Ventura County SOS

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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