Expert Viewpoint

Shifting from Paper to the Cloud: How K-12 Schools are Digitizing Operations

While COVID-19 changed every aspect of our daily lives — impacting our families, our businesses and how we work — one area most radically transformed was how our kids learn and the function of K–12 schools.

We may be discovering the impact of distance learning for decades to come, but the bottom line is that, thanks to collaborative technologies like Zoom, schools stayed in session, and online learning saved the day. As learning continues transitioning to a new “normal,” the question now is whether schools can continue to digitize administrative tasks and implement technologies to help teachers and administrators create a better learning experience for their students.

Schools that have traditionally been underfunded now have the access to funds they didn’t prior to the pandemic through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which allocates an unprecedented federal investment of $190 billion to schools across the country. School districts must use their share of the funding by September 24, 2023, so the clock is ticking for districts to make the most of this windfall opportunity.

Recent McKinsey research found that 90% of district administrators surveyed reported they have faced challenges related to making effective use of stimulus funds. Administrators participating in the survey were asked to identify the issues preventing or slowing their stimulus spending:

  • 37% cited “the lack of quality vendors or suppliers”
  • 42% cited problems navigating reporting and compliance requirements

McKinsey also reported that at the end of the 2021-22 school year, districts had spent just $45 billion of the total funding available, leaving approximately $130 billion that must be spent over the next three budget cycles.

School districts now have the opportunity to use the extra funding to upgrade online learning systems and back-office technologies. They also can provide staff and teachers the tools they need to create a more efficient organization that better supports delivering quality education and overcomes some of the serious gaps that the pandemic revealed.

Digitization Streamlines Paper-Heavy Processes

The massive amount of ESSER funding available to K–12 schools could help districts move forward after a few years of chaos and upheaval. Even now, as the worst of the pandemic seems to have passed, schools still face enormous challenges, including a shortage of qualified teachers and staff who are vital to keeping classroom and school operations running smoothly and delivering a quality education to students.

Besides the ups and downs of a stubborn virus and changing health protocols, teachers and administrators are tasked with running a “tight ship” that includes managing student and employee records.

Digitization is the key to eliminating backlogs of paper processes made worse by staff shortages and other post-pandemic challenges. By leveraging a combination of software and hardware, schools can create modern and digitized systems that make documents searchable and accessible — eliminating the time required to file and search through boxes for old student transcripts, test scores, health records, and more.

Not only does digitization make files and documents accessible, it also helps schools reduce their reliance on paper, saves time, streamlines processes, and makes documents instantly available on secure district-wide portals.

An Oklahoma School District’s Digitization Project

Take, for example, a school district in Oklahoma, where state law requires schools to store student records for up to 80 years. This district recently committed to completely digitizing operations. Each school was storing a large volume of student transcripts, IEPs, forms, reports, assessments, and more in boxes and filing cabinets across warehouses, closets, attics, and storerooms — all of which needed to be digitized.

When the Oklahoma’s school district’s residency requirements took effect, they used digitization to streamline the enrollment process. This allowed staff to immediately scan the enrollee’s proof of residency documents and save them to the student’s folder, which was stored in the cloud.

Using Chromebooks and a simple app that allows district staff to scan paperwork and save everything to Google Drive, the school district eliminated the need for a PC and software. They sent documents directly to the cloud to make them available to those with administrative credentials. The district then tackled a more time-consuming project: digitizing the student records legally mandated for retention, which were spread across 100 file cabinets.

Once the final leg of the digitization project is complete, the district registrar will no longer have to spend time rifling through multiple file cabinets to find files. Instead, they can simply type in a student’s name to find exactly what is needed. By having all student documents in one cloud file, anyone with permission can quickly search for a name and then scan through the file for what they need. This has also cut down on the time it takes to share records between school districts.

While digitization may seem like common sense to many, a lot of school districts have not taken the step to modernize operations and are still chained to using paper copies and file cabinets that are taking up valuable school space that could be put to better use.

As we’ve seen with distance learning, digital technologies have the potential to evolve education and school operations as we know it. By using ESSER funding to purchase new Chromebooks, projectors and smart boards, as well as scanners and other devices to modernize and transform administrative operations, school districts are investing in the success of future generations as well.

About the Author

Scott Francis, technology evangelist at PFU America, brings more than 30 years of document imaging expertise to his position, where he’s responsible for spreading the word about Fujitsu’s industry-leading scanner technology. With decades of experience in the content management industry, he is an expert on document scanning uses and best practices as well as the overall benefits of digital transformation.