Could there ever be enough computer equipment in schools? A recent report by Quality Education Data (QED) suggests that, after years of intense investment in computer hardware at the K-12 level, schools might finally be reaching a saturation point for spending on hardware.

The Technology Expenditures report, which forecasts K-12 spending on technology in the current school year, indicates that overall technology spending will drop slightly in 1999-2000, after years of steadily increasing. According to the report, the average dollars spent per student will dip from $142.21 in 1998-1999 to $132.57 this year.

Perhaps more telling than how much schools are spending on technology is where they are spending their allotted dollars. The most significant change noted in the study is a sharp decrease in hardware spending, from 42.6 percent of the budget per student in 1998-1999 to just 35.4 percent of the budget this year—an average decrease of $13.58 in spending per student on hardware.

It appears that some of this money not spent on hardware will be redistributed elsewhere. Researchers note a nearly $10 increase in spending per student on networks, a $2.22 increase per student in the purchase of peripherals, a $3.47 increase per student in software purchases, and a nearly $3 increase in service and support.

Interestingly, researchers only noted a $0.55 increase in spending on professional development. Professional development is defined as “instruction given to teachers…that goes beyond the teaching of basic computer applications…such as how to integrate technology into a given curriculum.” Computer training—defined as “instruction given to teachers that involves basic computer applications”—will experience negligible change in overall spending this year.

The numbers suggest that after years of rushing to pump computer terminals into schools, K-12 administrators may be acknowledging that it’s time to begin learning how to make better use of the equipment they have—and they’ve adjusted their spending budgets accordingly.