Dollars & Sense: Funding e-Learning for K-12

GUEST COLUMN | By Renee Patton

Unprecedented budget pressures are forcing K-12 schools across the nation to think differently about how to deliver learning and discussions about how to use technology to do this are at the forefront. The good news is that the long-standing debate of whether or not technology can help seems to be coming quickly to rest.  Emerging are universal agreements that new e-learning and collaboration technologies are critical in helping schools increase quality learning, engage students, prepare teachers and strip costs from the system.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sums up the role of technology in schools in his comments on the “Connect to Compete” initiative. Connect to Compete is a nonprofit organization created to increase broadband adoption and digital literacy training in disadvantaged communities throughout the United States.

“Children live in an ever-more interconnected world where their success in competing for the jobs of tomorrow will increasingly depend on their ability to understand, operate and adapt to computer-based technology and online environments.  And, we are seeing that smart use of technology can improve the opportunity to learn for people of all ages.  Yet, the U.S. trails countries like Singapore and South Korea in expanding access to broadband Internet.”

And while the conversation has shifted from technology as a want (e.g., “Is technology a classroom luxury?”) to a need—the question of cost remains top-of-mind for educators.

“What technologies do we need, and how do we find the money to buy it?”

So while remains the perception that advanced technology is prohibitively expensive, the business cases for technologies that deliver next-generation learning are compelling.

For instance, the Paradise Valley Unified School District in Phoenix, Arizona uses lifelike video conferencing for teachers to deliver courses to students at schools across the district. With this approach, the district avoids the cost of hiring individual teachers at individual sites where class sizes may not warrant a full-time teaching professional.

On that note, we’ve outlined below four hidden sources of funding that your school should consider before moving ahead with a purchase of collaboration/e-learning technology.

1. E-rate:  E-rate provides $2.4B annually to help K-12 schools fund discounts for telecommunications and Internet connectivity programs. Network infrastructure, select video conferencing equipment and related products, and hosted communication services are E-rate eligible. The program is funded by the public through contributions from various telecommunications services. Public, private and charter schools can apply for funding through this program.

2. Corporate Payment Plan Programs:  Private companies such as Cisco have designed specific programs designed to help schools get the most from their budgets by maximizing the use of every dollar before it is returned at the end of your fiscal year. Simply use remaining funds as an initial payment—be it big or small. Or, if funds are running low, provide a small initial payment and spread the remaining costs over the remainder of the term. The result of programs like Cisco Capital℠ Budget Optimizer is immediate access to technology to accelerate and realize the associated benefits now.

3. Bonds and Modernization Funds: Modernization bonds are legislated on a state-by-state basis, but every state has some funding for school construction, renovation and repairs. School bond consultants can help shape the project focus to increase the likelihood of passing. For example, a strong case can be made for using technology to increase efficiency, improve safety and create next-generation learning environments. It’s also possible to go back as far as five years to find bonds that are still in play. Since most districts have some modernization projects underway, these budgets can be leveraged for technology projects. For more information relevant to your state, click here.

4. Grants: While grants do not typically indicate specific technologies, you can acquire funding for a problem to be solved or learning outcome to be achieved. And grants can come from unexpected sources. The Department of Agriculture sponsors the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Grant which can provide up to $500K for distance learning and video conferencing equipment, network infrastructure, classroom content and staff development to schools and healthcare organizations in rural areas.

There’s no reason to let perception keep you from purchasing technologies that provide your students with the competitive edge necessary to succeed in 2012. A variety of alternative funding sources are available to help you incorporate the learning technology necessary to fuel the workforce of tomorrow by establishing a culture of learning today.


Renee Patton is the leader of U.S. Public Sector Education at Cisco. In this role, she is responsible for developing Cisco’s education messaging platform and driving Cisco’s position in the education market. A former high school English and French teacher, Renee has an in-depth understanding of the K-12 education market.

One comment

  1. Great article and information. As a technology VAR that does sell Cisco and other products into K12 I see the mountain many IT directors have to climb constantly. One of the services we offer is to take advantage of deeper 2 and 3 year discounts on software licensing and divide that into annual payments. In many cases it’s not just a perk, but school districts have to find vendors who provide this.

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