Welcome to the Learning Continuity Guidebook, this post is the third in a nine-part series. Click here to learn more about the guidebook and its contributors.
Planning for learning continuity requires a shift in how we think about funding. As a district-wide issue, there must be a district-wide commitment to establish learning continuity – especially when it comes to funding those efforts.
Make the Shift from "My Money" to "Our Money"
Experience (including lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and Rita) has shown us how to create that shift in thinking. Move away from a siloed approach to funding and step into one that’s more holistic; where all stakeholders have a seat at the table. Yes, it's tough, but we've seen it work.
Your funding team should gather around the cabinet table and include everyone who has large amounts of money to spend:
- Federal programs staff
- Director of Special Education
- Curriculum staff
- Asst. Superintendents
This is where your leadership skills come into play. By building consensus and establishing collaborative budget planning and spending, you point everyone toward a common goal (learning continuity). You can shift the group mindset from one where everyone is thinking about "my money" to one where you're planning how to spend "our money." The goal is for your district's budget to reflect your district's learning goals.
Districts like Lindsay Unified School District have successfully taken this approach.
Braid and blend funds
When you move to a holistic funding approach, district leaders can all work together, identify where the gaps are, and then put the funding toward those priority gaps.
Breaking down the territorial funding lines will help everyone see new opportunities and think about how to creatively fund what you need. This WestEd webinar offers some clear advice for districts on how they can braid or blend federal Title and IDEA funds, state funds, and other funding streams to support students with the greatest needs.
Plan for sustainable funding
Stimulus funds, like the federal CARES Act, are welcome supports and great for districts scrambling to get everyone online and learning. The problem is, eventually, you spend those funds, and they don't renew. As your district plans for the new school year and beyond, it's crucial to think deliberately about how you'll sustain the programs and technology you adopt in your learning continuity plan.
Buying Chromebooks? How will you replace them when they start failing in five years? Loading up on digital curriculum and services? How will you cover those annual renewal costs in the absence of stimulus funding?
We've seen fund shifting work as a great approach here – especially if you've already done the job of moving to a holistic approach to funding.
Maybe you don't purchase textbooks so you can pay for subscription renewals... or you cancel subscriptions to digital tools and resources with low usage numbers and impacts.
Data and analytics can guide you here. It's much easier to make and justify these decisions when you can see which resources are being used to their fullest potential, and which you can do without. As an example, Atlanta Public Schools used ClassLink Analytics to measure engagement with digital tools and content and used that information to save $120,000 in an annual subscription that wasn't being used.
Additional cost-savings ideas:
- Sign multi-year contracts of your base systems to lock in prices and gain savings by committing for more than one year.
- Look for opportunities to consolidate systems or eliminate duplication of services.
- Watch for opportunities to train your staff, so there is less dependency on long term contractors to manage some of your systems.
In Oregon, several district Chief Information Officers have banned together to address access issues. They’ve urged their governor to establish a task force focused on developing a systemic solution to providing every child in the state with broadband. Another great approach to seeking out long term solutions versus a short term fix.
Where to spend your learning continuity funding
Laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots, subscriptions to digital tools and content, and professional development – these are all components you'll need to fund your learning continuity plan. For more ideas, look to districts like Buffalo Public Schools, which shared a fairly comprehensive technology proposal for their continuity plan.
But there's one highly necessary component we've seen go unnoticed all too often, cloud storage and working from the cloud.
You've heard it before. Moving to the cloud is necessary for disaster recovery and business continuity, but the new reality is – moving to the cloud is also essential for learning continuity.
In this new climate, districts need the centralized management that comes from the cloud. That management can no longer come from the school network because students (and their devices) aren't at school. Moving to the cloud will make accessing systems and content easier. It will also make it easier to update the thousands of iPads and Chromebooks you’ve invested in, even as they sit in students’ homes.
The bottom line: look at the strategic direction of your district. What are your goals? Where do you want to make your gains? Your learning continuity budget should reflect your priorities and values.
Watch for our next blog post as we focus on how to 'Build a Plan for the Technology Ecosystem'. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date with new entries in this series, or subscribe using the form below.
As we continue through the series, we’ll share resources and best practices from trailblazers and districts leading the way. Here are some that stand out for their vision, expertise, and usefulness.
Districts to follow
Leaders to learn from
- Policy Expert Susan Gentz
Practical tools and news you can use