K-12 Education & IT Investment: When Political Reality Runs Interference

K-12 Education & IT Investment: When Political Reality Runs Interference

I’d like to add something that stems from my personal experience to the commentary my colleague Dave Cohune wrote a few weeks ago:

K-12 organizations can realize cost savings though wise investments in IT infrastructure.   An example of this is might be to enable the improvement of business processes and decision making, thereby enabling management to provide the district with accountability of financial oversight, compliance, and planning/management of assets.

Desire among US taxpayers to maintain (and improve) quality K-12 education translates to an opportunity for District IT organizations to invest in efficiency-enhancing enterprise software solutions.

While the desire among US  taxpayers to support their K-12 education systems may be there, unfortunately politics sometimes gets in the way of good sense, solid logic and business case justification.  It seems that leaders, such as school board members, are at times more interested in keeping their positions than doing the right thing and frequently do not have the business background to understand that by investing smart dollars today (if they are lucky enough to have any resources to invest) they can actually realize a return on investment (ROI) in a reasonable amount of time.  If they did understand this, they’d they see it would actually save teachers’ jobs and enhance education in just a few years.

Example: In 2009, a K-12 district in Florida had money set aside for capital expenditure that was funded and targeted for a Business Process Improvement (BPI) project. The money was there and the only way it could be spent was for this activity, which had been approved.  The funding could not be transferred and used for anything else.

The project had a significant ROI and also would have made a big difference in automating and enhancing the district’s performance to education compliance requirements.  The administration executives did their due diligence and supported the project to their school board for approval, who immediately turned it down.  Reason – no matter what the business case and future benefit, the board was concerned that any spending at that level would not be politically well received, while laying off teachers at the same time.

The concern is understandable, but should be explainable to their taxpayers and local constituents.  The decision not to take advantage of the opportunity likely costs a significant number of teacher’s jobs in a year or two out in terms of funding.  Also, by manually having to generate the required information, the school district had to employ more administrative resources, when they could have funded even more teachers instead.

Unfortunately the board did not see it that way. This year the district would be realizing the ROI, however instead they will likely be laying off another some 50 teachers.

So while desire is often present for a K-12 IT initiative, be very mindful of the fact that political realities must be overcome before the project sees the light of day — especially in regions where any spending is seen as a negative.


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