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5 reasons we switched to financing edtech instead of buying

Here's how one district gave students the learning environment they needed

Like many school districts around the country, D.C. Everest (WI) Area School District purchased a hodgepodge of edtech devices over time to meet the needs of our growing student population, teachers, and available budgets.

Four years ago, a study of inventory found that we were close to having one device per student for our K-12 district of more than 6,000 students, yet the way our tech had been purchased didn’t create an equitable environment. We had desktop computers, laptops, and tablets from various manufacturers. Consequently, while one classroom had its own tablets, another would have to use desktops in a lab.

Our uneven learning environment was difficult to manage, expensive to maintain, and challenging to train teachers. When devices had reached the end of their useful life—typically every six to eight years—we would contact a recycler to haul the devices away. On a rare occasion we’d get a little money for parts or a stray device that still held value.

I knew there had to be a better way to give students the learning environment they needed, and I found it in financing tech devices.

Financing to the rescue
School districts use financing to purchase all kinds of important items, from buses to buildings, so it seemed logical to finance devices in order to achieve the kind of learning environment we want for our students and teachers.

Today, our streamlined edtech environment includes an iPad for every student and an iPad Pro or MacBook Pro for every teacher. Every classroom has a projector or a TV with Apple TV for Airplay capabilities.

Here are the five main reasons we decided to commit to one tech platform and to financing.

1. Financing gives us a predictable budget.
Traditionally, edtech purchases are treated as large capital expenditures. Financing gives districts a smaller, predictable budget for devices by spreading the cost of technology out over the term of the agreement, which is usually four years. Technology then becomes a planned expense—like water or electricity—not a “nice to have.” Including technology in the annual budget also smooths out the peaks and valleys of large technology refreshes. Since school operating costs are covered by taxes and other funding, yearly budgets shouldn’t be carried over. Without financing, a district our size would have to budget $5 million for new technology every five years. By financing, this budget is spread out over several years.

2. We make better purchasing decisions.
Financing forces districts to make purchases based on total cost of ownership, instead of purchasing the cheapest device. Devices that maintain a higher residual value actually cost less to finance and typically provide a better learning experience. When we were doing our research, we discovered this the hard way. We had just bought 300 Chromebooks for about $250 each and learned from our hardware trade-up partner that the devices were worth only about $50 each after the first year and were worthless nine months later. Our year-old iPads, on the other hand, maintained about 60 percent of their value and were still worth about $150 each the next year. Looking at these numbers, we realized we could finance new devices every three years and use the residual value of our devices to pay down the cost of our new fleet or buy additional equipment.

3. We can achieve digital equity.
Financing allows us to purchase all new technology at the same time, so all students will be using the same devices and operating system and teachers will be able to use available instructional software. Being able to level the playing field for students who may be economically disadvantaged is very important to most districts. Replacing the oldest technology as budget becomes available or having students bring their own devices creates an uneven and unfair learning environment.

4. Financing leads to easier management.
With predictable budgeting from financing, we can refresh entire fleets at the same time. Before, we would buy new equipment as we had the budget. This meant that we had to manage and maintain various-aged devices. To track these devices, we used crazy, complicated spreadsheets. We also found that we weren’t consistent in replacing old technology, opting instead to extend the life of a fleet to “save” money. What this did was balloon our repair costs and put devices out of commission while they were being fixed. Having everyone on the same platform also simplifies device management using a mobile device management solution, such as Jamf, which allows us to hold the line on the number of technical staff needed to support the devices. Students can also keep their device if they switch schools within the district.

5. Training has been simplified.
Whenever we introduce new technology, we need to train our teachers how to use it. Having all teachers on the same devices greatly streamlines this process. Before, we would host a professional development day and half the teachers wouldn’t have the same technology. We also can easily introduce new software and operating system updates and know that all the teachers will benefit.

Finally, for school districts that currently are recycling their technology or may be considering financing, I’d like to offer a few bits of advice:

1. Start by reaching out to an asset management company. We partner with Diamond Assets. Ask which devices hold their value best and about repair rates. Asset management companies are the best resource for getting this information because they see which devices have the best resale value and which tend to get damaged most easily. Look for a partner with education experience and ask for a plan that shows the optimal length of time to keep devices, so you can trade them in when they still have good residual value.

2. Figure out your goals for education and the kind of learning experience you’d like to provide your students and teachers. Make sure you set the ceiling high so teachers and students benefit from more than just word processing and web browsing. Increasingly, students expect to learn in a multimedia environment. This will help you decide on a specific kind of device.

3. Compare financing plans for the devices you plan to acquire. Typically, the more value your fleet retains, the lower the cost to finance. Don’t forget to look at financing options through technology companies. For example, our financing rate through Apple is just .1 percent, which makes our finance costs almost free.

4. Don’t buy on initial price. The upfront cost should never be your biggest factor for an edtech purchase. Look at the total cost of ownership, including the cost of the technology, its resale value, the cost of maintenance, and the number of technicians you will need to support the technology.

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