Budgeting “Parachutes” to Help You Survive the Funding Cliff

Budgeting “Parachutes” to Help You Survive the Funding Cliff
January 18, 2024 8 min read

From telehealth and teletherapy programs promoting student well-being in Mississippi, and enhanced performance monitoring to help identify academically struggling students in Vermont, schools nationwide found creative ways to use education relief funds to address their unique, post-pandemic needs.

Federal emergency funds–like ESSER, CARES, and ECF– granted many schools the chance to try new things with edtech in an effort to help students recover socially, emotionally, and academically from the pandemic (Allovue). While every school took the extra money in a unique direction,they are all faced with the same dilemma in 2024-25: The Funding Cliff (also referred to as the Fiscal Cliff)
School leaders are asking themselves:

“How do we keep up this level of tech programming now that the funds are drying up?”

2024 is a year to get creative with budget dollars! Let’s talk about some tools–i.e.“budgeting parachutes”–that you can use in your tech department to help you survive the funding cliff. 

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Keys to Smart Spending for Schools with Funds Remaining

For those who still have some funding left to use, this section’s for you! The Article As ESSER Spending Ramps Up from THE Journal Provides a practical guide for schools as they plan for the eventual phase-out of federal education funds. With some simple "dos" and "don'ts" for investing in student success, you’ve got a basic roadmap that you can use for ESSER and any other educational funding. Let’s take a look:

  • DON’T spend in a way that creates a fiscal cliff.
  • DON’T deploy funds inequitable across schools.
  • DON’T sign problematic contracts. Include outcome measurements in contracts for student services (ex. Participation rates). You should also ensure that contracts have measurable results, with payments contingent on vendors meeting performance targets and providing districts and exit if targets aren’t met.
  • DON’T invest without demonstrating real results. Make sure to demonstrate progress towards goals to avoid being deemed unsuccessful.
  • DON’T forget to demonstrate the value of these investments to the community. District leaders should clearly communicate relief fund usage, highlighting its connection to students and showcasing the impact of investment.

 

  • DO commit to a multi-year spending plan. By allocating resources over multiple years, schools and districts can focus on sustainable initiatives that lead to better student outcomes.
  • DO adhere to short-term spending commitments in line with the temporary nature of the funds.
  • DO seek targeted investments and consider equitable distribution of funds. Districts can promote equitable spending by allocating fixed amounts per student to each school (ex. $250/student plus an extra $100/low income or english-learning students)
  • DO honor the spirit of education relief funds and their promises to the taxpayer (i.e. focus on students and relief).
  • DO be transparent about spending within your school, district, and community. Clearly communicate the plan to promote buy-in and encourage participation in the success of your initiative.

Sustaining Technology Past the Funding Cliff 

If you’re struggling to balance your budget and need some tips, Discovery Education’s guide can be a great reference. They suggest that districts should be mindful of the fact that education relief funds won’t last forever, and offer some helpful advice for managing finances accordingly. By following these guidelines, district leaders can help their districts stay on track financially and be prepared for whatever challenges may come:

Forward Funding:

Paying for multiple years of a contract upfront, can be a viable option depending on your local and state procurement rules. It creates a way to manage expenses and plan for the future.
With committing to a longer-term contract, organizations may be able to secure better rates and avoid unexpected price increases down the line.

Displace and Extend:

School boards can consider using education relief funds to cover general expenses that occur annually. This can free up a portion of the district’s general revenue to be saved for future allocation and may be feasible (depending on local and state rules), as the federal “supplement, not supplant” requirement does not apply to some educational funds.
By utilizing time-limited relief funds for recurring expenses like software licenses or maintenance, school districts can reserve their regular budget for future needs.

Strategic Replacement:

Districts can use funds to invest in newer and more effective instructional technology, network infrastructure, and other necessary resources.
For example, a district could use strategic replacement by using education relief funds to upgrade old computers with newer models. This ensures that their annual plan focuses on efficient, effective resources that enhance educational outcomes.

Displace and Replace

This strategy lets schools reallocate existing resources (displace and expand) AND introduce new, more effective solutions (strategic replacement). For instance, a district might use funds to introduce cutting-edge educational technology while simultaneously scaling back or discontinuing an older, less efficient system. 
This approach aims to optimize long-term educational and financial benefits, though it requires thoughtful planning and resource management for successful implementation.

Other Ideas for Funding K-12 Tech Purchases

Outside of smart spending and clever budgeting tactics, you may still need an extra boost to keep your tech awesomeness going. Let’s call these tips “budget paragliders” because not only will they help you descend safely from the funding cliff… They’ll take you even further! 

Boost Your Budget with Credit-Builders

If you’ve got old tech lying around and collecting dust you can turn it into money like POOF! Trafera offers multiple buy-back and trade-in options that build you credit towards future edtech purchases. Contact your account manager who can help you pick the best option for your school. 

  • Trafera Buy Back (for select Chromebook and Windows devices) 
  • Trafera Device Lifecycle Management (eco-friendly, credit-building buy back on just about all devices)
  • Trafera Financial Services tradeIT (technology buy back and liquidation) 

Avoid Upfront Cost and Stabilize Your Budget Cycles

Got that “I need new tech now, but I have no money!” feeling? You should consider leasing-type options! They’re not as scary as they sound, and with super low interest rates with Trafera Financial Services, it’s almost like free money at your disposal. 
Device-as-a-Service (DaaS) can be a great option if you need new tech now but don’t have the funds to make a giant upfront investment. With DaaS, what you’re paying for is the use of devices, not the devices themselves. Devices come with all sorts of additional perks like warranty coverage, software, and setup services. All paid for in manageable, incremental payments on a schedule that suits you. 

Stretch Your Current Tech A Little Further

You might not be in a place to get any new tech for your school this year, and we’re here to tell ya, “we’ve got your back through that, too”. 

Trafera just launched EcoRepair which gives you another full year of repair coverage for devices that have aged out of traditional warranties. It’s a prepaid program that helps offset the cost of device breaks... but the major benefit has nothing to do with repairs at all!

For any credits not spent on repairs during 12 months, you earn 110% in credit towards a future purchase!

So to recap: You get to pull an extra year of life out of an old device, reduce repairs costs, minimize e-waste, AND walk away with extra money for new tech! What’s not to love?!

More Info On Federal Education Relief Funds

CARES Act

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was a major step in addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19, especially in education. This $2 trillion relief set up the Education Stabilization Fund, which includes GEER and ESSER funds, to financially aid schools and state education systems. This helped them adapt and continue providing quality education during the pandemic.

CRRSA Act

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act built upon the CARES Act by enhancing existing programs like ESSER and GEER while introducing new funds, like the EANS Fund (part of the GEER award).

ARP Act

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act focused on facilitating a swift recovery from the pandemic's educational disruptions. With 1.3 billion allocated for K-12, it notably expanded the ESSER fund, emphasizing the safe reopening of schools and continuous support for students.

ESSER Funding

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund is a federal program designed to provide financial aid to school districts affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program consists of three funding rounds with their respective deadlines:

  • ESSER I (13.5 Billion) 
    • Deadline has passed (September 30, 2022)
  • ESSER II ($55 Billion)
    • Deadline has passed (September 30, 2023)
    • January 31, 2024: ESSER II spending due
  • ESSER III ($122 Billion)
    • September 30, 2024: Allocation of ESSER III due
    • January 31, 2025: ESSER III spending due

Find out more about ESSER Funding here.

EFC Funding

The Emergency Connectivity Fund (EFC) is a $7.171 billion federal program that supported schools and libraries with remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has funded necessary technology and services for students, staff and patrons, having three application windows: 

  • First application window
    • Deadline has passed (August 13, 2021)
    • Eligible service period has passed (June 30, 2023) 
  • Second application window
    • Deadline has passed (October 13, 2021)
    • Eligible service period has passed (June 30, 2023)
    • Extended Deadline has passed (May 12, 2023)
  • Third application window
    • Deadline has passed (May 13, 2022)
    • Until June 30, 2024: Eligible service period 

Find out more about EFC Funding here

GEER Funding

Part of the CARES Act, the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) allocated approximately $3 billion to state governors allowing them the flexibility to support schools and higher education institutions most affected by COVID-19. The funds could be used on emergency support to address educational challenges and learning loss among students.

  • GEER I
    • Deadline has passed (September 30, 2022)
  • GEER II
    • Deadline has passed (September 30, 2023)

Find out more info about GEER Funding here

EANS Funding

The Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) Fund, part of the CRRSA and ARP Acts, allocated $2.75 billion in funding to support nonpublic schools with services or assistance to address the pandemic's impact, ensuring they can safely reopen and maintain operations.

  • ARP EANS
    • Deadline has passed (September 2, 2022)
  • CRSSA EANS
    • Deadline has passed (June 3, 2022)

Find out more about EANS Funding here

Keep track of important funding dates here, to ensure your schools make the most of federal relief opportunities.

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