24 July 2010

The Prism of a Funding Crisis

I see the world of education and, more specifically, educational technology through a very distinct prism.  It makes my views very opinionated and in possible contrast with the views of many teachers and technology specialists.  I want to take today's post and explain a little bit about that prism and how it affects my views on edtech.  I probably should have written about this in my first post, but it's better late than never, I suppose.

As many teachers have noticed  in the past few years, education funding in many places has been dropping.  Since I teach at a small school (roughly 2,500 K-12) in a rural county in Alabama, my classroom funds and technology funds have been cut dramatically.  Let's get some numbers:

  • 7.5% - The percentage of the cut in education funding instituted by Gov. Bob Riley when he announced proration for Alabama's education budget in April of 2010.
  • 32nd - The rank of the state of Alabama in per-student funding for the 2007-08 school year.
  • 104th - The rank of my school district (Cullman County) in local revenue in relation to the other 165 districts in the state of Alabama for the 2008-2009 school year.
  • $0 - The amount of technology funds appropriated by the state of Alabama for the last two school years.

So, as you can see, funding is a serious issue for me, both as a classroom teacher and a technology coordinator.  Because of this, when I search out tech to use in my classroom or services to share with other teachers, I can't just consider ease of use and educational impact--I have to consider cost.  Would I like all of my students to have iMacs instead of low-priced netbooks?  Yes.  Would I rather purchase Adobe Premiere instead of using Movie Maker or JayCut?  Absolutely.  The harsh reality is, though, I can't.

Many of the computers in my school are more than five years old, and all of them are Windows machines. We've recently made moves to cut overhead even further.  During the 2008-09 school year, I began piloting Google Apps with my computer classes, and midway through last year, my principal and I facilitated the move to Google Apps Education Edition for our entire school, eliminating the need for site licenses for the school and removable storage for students.  Then, near the end of last school year, the district moved every Cullman County employee to Google Apps, saving the district thousands of dollars each year in licensing and upkeep. This has also removed some of our dependence on legacy software, which is allowing us to move some of our student computers away from Windows and onto a free Linux distro.

All of these things influence the way I see edtech moving forward.  This makes me see cloud computing in a different light than many, especially those in IT or those from schools with fewer funding issues.  By moving storage and software into the cloud, it reduces the cost to me, my school, and my district.  Instead of buying site licenses for MS Office 2010, Adobe Premiere, or Adobe Photoshop, we are able to cut those costs by using cloud-based solutions like Google Apps, JayCut, and Aviary.  Instead of spending a $5,000 grant on 10 iPads, we can purchase 20 netbooks. We have to make every dollar stretch.

These options may not be the best choices for everyone.  If you're in a school or system that doesn't face the same funding issues as mine, you may find some of my ideas and opinions extreme or even ludicrous.  Still, I think the cloud has something to offer even those schools with more equitable and universal access.  Plus, as more and more software and companies move into the cloud, it will open even more doors for educators from every end of the spectrum.


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