Education procurement is often stereotyped as a lagging bureaucracy — a painful maze of red tape focused more on avoiding bad decisions than supporting innovation and student outcomes. However, as the pace of technological, policy and market innovation rapidly increases, leading education organizations are stepping up, harnessing innovative tools and practices to improve the efficiency, visibility and safety of their procurement. And by doing so, these leading organizations are turning the future of education finance into an engine to amplify budget impacts and student outcomes.

As a former CFO for schools, and now cofounder of Lea(R)n, I get to work with public sector leaders committed to better results. At this week’s Future of Education Finance Summit in Baltimore, Maryland, five of the best practices being implemented by leaders around the country are being highlighted.

Five EdTech Procurement Best and Next Practices around the Country

1. Increasing purchasing power through efficient pre-procurement.

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By redirecting resources from a lopsided, time-consuming and duplicative discovery process, the University of North Carolina System has shifted the focus to efficient procurement, so implementation and impact measurement are the focus for educators. They opened their Learning Technology Commons to all edtech companies, screening only for legal compliance, and offered those product companies the chance to share pricing and discounts. In doing so, UNC not only let educators prioritize learning above vendor sales calls, but increased their purchasing power by more than 21% in less than 90 days.

“Our model provides a trustworthy approach, not simply a marketplace to buy more stuff. With our quality-driven edtech ecosystem, the best products rise to the top. We can increase our purchasing power and our faculty share the tools that work best for their learners.”
- Matthew Rascoff, VP Office of Learning, Technology & Innovation

2. Cooperative purchasing vehicles that enhance student privacy and security.

Federal (ADAFERPAESSA) and a growing number of state privacy requirements (California AB 1584 and SB 1177, Colorado HB 1294, Connecticut HB 5469, Georgia SB 89, Idaho SB 1372, New York SB 6356, Rhode Island HB 7124, West Virginia HB 4316 and numerous others) could be considered burdensome for districts and institutions. However, cooperative agreements like Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s Unified EdTech Contract level the playing field, so even the smallest districts can verify, share with each other and keep tabs on which products have already met federal and new state requirements. This innovation not only improves the legal compliance, thus lowering liabilities for participating districts, it eliminates duplicated — or worse, non-existent — efforts by districts who are increasingly required to verify every edtech product and share their findings with parents.

“Our districts are required to vet every company on 14 different criteria — every district, every product.The SVEF Unified EdTech Contract saves time for both the product companies and the districts, which saves all sides money, limits legal liabilities and makes innovation for students more timely.”
-Arati Nagaraj, Innovation Hub Director, Silicon Valley Education Foundation

3. Measuring utilization and outcomes to meet fidelity goals and increase return on edtech investments.

Utah is just one of the innovative states that has passed legislation requiring fidelity data be gathered for the purposes of supporting edtech adoption and demonstrating return on investment (ROI). Visibility to utilization data empowers educators and their institutions to improve implementation during the process, rather than merely providing a retrospective review. Combining that information with rapid and ongoing correlative insights on student achievement provides the path for a focus on outcomes. Continuous improvement in fidelity of implementation is a critical step towards success; making it a directed policy requirement that benefits the entire ecosystem of educators, students, administrators, technologists, finance officers and companies that develop effective products.

With teachers serving as architects of learning combined with the knowledge to effectively integrate technology, schools can provide students with a pipeline to explore real world concepts, interact with real world experts, and analyze and solve real world problems. Connected technology offers the potential to keep classroom resources and materials current with the contemporary world to an extent that is unprecedented.
H.B. 277 Personalized Learning and Teaching Amendments

4. Equipping and empowering principals to make informed school-level decisions.

Providing “local control” for small- and mid-size purchasing is intended to help students, foster local innovation and provide self-determination in what’s best — the closer to the students, the more aligned the purchases, goes the thinking. However, with so many products, so many compliance requirements and so many sales calls (more than 100/week to most schools), for principals and their leadership teams keeping up to date is overwhelming at worst, and massively duplicative at best. To take advantage of centralized budgeting power and encourage innovation, large urban and mid-size districts, and even states, are providing collaborative institutional sharing of effective edtech tools. Product libraries with approved tech designations and documented feedback give principals and their local teacher teams the information needed to make data-driven decisions, ending time spent on hundreds of sales calls, streamlining RFP/RFI processes and creating models for replicable, shareable pilots and product evaluations.

5. Increasing pricing transparency of edtech through trust networks to improve purchasing power, understand business models and save front-end discovery time.

LearnPlatform, TEC

Networks like the Technology for Education Consortium (TEC) — a free-to-join network already boasting 40 member districts — are actively aggregating, analyzing and sharing product contracts in order to provide useful insights for purchasing. While the districts’ contracts are de-identified, the valuable terms, pricing and related information is analyzed to improve decisions and negotiations. Last spring, TEC released its first set of findings on Apple iPads at SxSWedu. At ISTE 2016, the organization announced that its growing group of member districts is focusing on both hardware and software products to improve purchasing power, support efficient decision-making and, in some ways, make the “demand side” of the supply and demand curve slightly more demanding.

Innovation is happening in education finance and procurement. As more states pass legislation to focus on student achievement and mandate requirements to protect student privacy and equalize resource access, learning organizations need a central destination for this work so they can keep instructional resources focused on student outcomes. The LearnPlatform offers networks, like SVEF; states like Utah; and university systems like UNC; and districts around the country a simplified means of driving these practices.