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How to sustain technology funding in schools

Schools must be proactive in securing the funds to sustain ed-tech initiatives.

Involving the community, identifying backup revenue sources, and dedicating time and resources for professional development are the keys to sustaining technology funding and ed-tech initiatives, according to a survey conducted by the nonprofit Digital Wish.

The Digital Wish Study on Sustainability, co-authored by Digital Wish Executive Director Heather Chirtea and School Modernization Initiative (SMI) Program Manager Eric Bird, examines how schools approach the often complicated matter of technology funding.

Digital Wish launched SMI, a one-to-one computing program, in 2009. The initiative involved 28 schools and 1,294 students in grades 4-6, and it gave curriculum and training to 79 teachers. At the end of the program’s first year, school leaders turned to the challenge of sustaining this initiative, and the A.D. Henderson Foundation commissioned Digital Wish to examine how schools could do this successfully.

The foundation also tasked Digital Wish with developing free resources to spread best practices in sustaining ed-tech programs. The study included responses from administrators, IT specialists, media and curriculum coordinators, librarians, and teachers.

The survey results revealed that, when it comes to technology funding, the “most successful schools develop multiple sources of revenue, they trigger strong community engagement, and they prioritize daily support and training for teachers.”

(Next page: A breakdown of how successful ed-tech programs are funded)

As part of the research, Digital Wish interviewed 27 ed-tech leaders about sustainable technology initiatives.

“As a trend, nearly all of the most sustainable programs were funded by multiple sources,” according to the report. “Administrators running programs with just a single source of funding voiced ‘fear’ that their initiatives were vulnerable to cancellation. Experienced administrators were adamant about the need for training as an integral part of every school day. Nearly all had supplemented convention workshop-based professional development with teacher peer-support systems and daily mentor programs.”

A large majority (88 percent) said that technology budgets are one of their school’s largest sources of ed-tech funding. Respondents were able to choose more than one funding option, and here are some other findings:

  • Fifty-four percent have used other budget line items for technology.
  • Forty-five percent said their schools have applied for other grants.
  • Fifty-seven percent said they do fundraising.
  • Thirty-seven percent use student mentors to help support their technology programs.
  • Nearly two-thirds said they receive donations from outside organizations.
  • Thirteen percent use eRate funds.

Thirteen percent of respondents reported that they receive community donations to fund their ed-tech initiatives. Of those respondents, technology funding donations come from:

  • The PTA (34 percent).
  • Local businesses (23 percent).
  • Local foundations (15 percent).
  • Local clubs such as the Lions or Rotary (12 percent).
  • Religious groups (8 percent).
  • Military or veterans’ groups (1 percent).

Participants also offered advice when it comes to asking community members for donations. Some said real estate agencies and banks are potential donors, because good school systems have a positive impact on property values. Others said seldom-approached groups, such as dental practices, are eager to donate. Parents also might have information on whether their businesses or employers are likely to donate.

The most common non-technology budget line items used to fund technology programs are:

  • Textbooks
  • Supplies
  • Professional development
  • Library services
  • Special education
  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Facilities
  • Supplemental

(Next page: Other advice from survey respondents)

Respondents urged school leaders to convince school boards that technology is not a one-time expense, but an ongoing expense.

Only 61 percent of schools spent all of the funds in their budget categories last year, and 39 percent had unspent funds left over.

Grant applications are often a tricky area. Many applications, especially those for federal grants, and detailed and take months to complete. Schools with fewer personnel or limited funds to hire grant writers often have to pass on these opportunities.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said they have not applied for any grants. Of those who have applied, 11 percent used an IT person, and 12 percent used a professional grant writer to complete the application. Thirty-five percent of those who did apply for grants reported raising $10,000 or more each year, and 26 percent raised at least $20,000.

Nearly half of schools surveyed (43 percent) said they do not do any fundraising, and of the 57 percent who said they do raise funds, 36 percent identified product sales as their top method. PTAs are the most frequent source of fundraising initiatives. Forty-three percent of schools that fund raise raise more than $10,000 each year, and 20 percent raise more than $20,000.

Four percent of respondents reported having no technology-related professional development. Twenty-eight percent have technology training between one to two times a year, 23 percent receive technology training two to four times a year, and 21 percent are trained between five and nine times per year. Thirteen percent receive training monthly, 7 percent train weekly, and 4 percent receive daily technology training.

“The schools with the most sustainable programs all took a blended approach to funding, harvesting a wide array of revenue opportunities from across their communities—each of which contributed a portion of their total financial need,” the authors write. “The stronger PTAs would fundraise, and some sought out foundational grants. The business community made the connection between a strong school technology program and preparing their own future workforce—and they made donations. The most engaged communities voted for higher budgets for school technology. However, the burden of community engagement rests entirely on the schools. If the schools don’t trigger these community connections, they simply won’t materialize.”

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Laura Ascione

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