K-12 technology spending continues to soar

Spending for technology in K-12 education topped $6.7 billion during the 1998-99 school year, an increase of nearly 25 percent from the previous year. And in 1999-00, districts are expected to spend even more, according to the latest figures from Quality Education Data (QED).

Though QED’s “Technology Purchasing Forecast 1999-2000” projects only $6.2 billion in school technology spending this year, this figure doesn’t include the projected spending of up to $2.25 billion in eRate dollars, because schools didn’t know how much they’d be getting in eRate discounts when they responded to the survey.

“I expect to see spending continue to increase,” said Tony Wilhelm, program director for communications policy at the Washington-based Benton Foundation. “We are just now reaching a universal infrastructure development. Once you get the infrastructure in place, it is a necessity to go and buy the equipment. I don’t expect purchasing to level off for some time.”

According to the study, funding for technology from regular sources—such as district, state, and federal monies—jumped 52 percent last year, from $47.39 to $72.16 per student. Part of this increase can be attributed to the eRate and part can be attributed to the public pressure on states and districts to improve their instructional technology, researchers said.

In compiling the study, which was released in mid-February, researchers sent questionnaires to 2,500 school districts and 5,000 schools nationwide. The overall response rate for the sample was 7.8 percent for districts and 4.4 percent for schools. The entire survey took place between April and October 1999.

Besides indicating an overall increase in K-12 technology spending, the study suggests that changes have occurred in the way these funds are being used.

Hardware continues to make up the largest share of per-student technology expenditures, at 43 percent in 1998-99, up three percentage points from the previous year. But spending on instructional software increased by 74 percent in 1998-99, to $11.34 per student, and per-student spending on peripherals is projected to nearly double by the end of this school year.

According to QED, the dramatic increase in spending on instructional software can be attributed, in part, to the increased number of multimedia computers at both the district and school levels. With more computers able to handle advanced software applications, schools “have reason to invest in the instructional software necessary to make the most of their … technology,” the report said.

In the 1996-97 school year, QED research showed that the average school owned just 25 multimedia computers for student use. Two years later, this figure had jumped to an average of 74 multimedia computers per school, an increase of nearly 200 percent. In the average school, two-thirds of the installed base of computers are multimedia, according to QED.

Multimedia computer purchases jumped dramatically at the district level as well. Districts reported an average of 245 multimedia computers in 1997-98; last year, the average district had 438. Both schools and districts expect to buy about 30 percent more multimedia computers for instructional use in 1999-00.

“The fact that the purchasing of multimedia computers has jumped so drastically shows that schools are phasing out older models for those with a CD-ROM and a sound card,” said Sheri Fitzgerald, the study’s market research data specialist. However, these figures also could indicate a general market trend toward the production of multimedia computers, she noted.

The percentage of technology spending per student on hardware is projected to decrease overall in 1999-00, from 43 percent to 36 percent. But last year’s forecast projected a decline in hardware expenditures as well, from 40 percent to 33 percent. In fact, hardware spending actually increased by three percentage points.

“Purchasers seem to think they will buy a bulk of hardware this year and be able to focus on other purchases next year,” Fitzgerald said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see that trend continue.”

According to the forecast, Apple Computer might make further inroads into schools this year. About 37 percent of the total instructional computers to be purchased in 1999-00 are projected to be Macs. Last year, Macs accounted for 33 percent of planned purchases, QED said.

District-level educators rated the top five software providers to K-12 schools as Microsoft, Broderbund, The Learning Co., Grolier Electronic Publishing, and MECC. Campus-level educators rated these five at the top of their list as well, though educators at the building level placed Broderbund ahead of Microsoft.

Copies of the survey questionnaire are available at QED’s web site.

Quality Education Data

Benton Foundation

eSchool News Staff

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