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4 steps to make the COVID-19 funding windfall sustainable

Districts can increase tech investments by reselling used devices

3 min read


4 steps to make the COVID-19 funding windfall sustainable

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Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.

While COVID-19 wrought plenty of chaos, it produced at least one silver lining for school districts: Relief plans provided the largest education-focused federal investment in our history.

Since March 2020, COVID-19 funding for schools has reached almost $190 billion. Together with Title 1 funds, that amounts to $4,610 per student, according to FutureEd.

Some of that funding went to purchase technology devices so students could learn from home.  Nearly two-thirds of school leaders used relief funds to buy devices and provide students with internet connectivity, according to a survey by the School Superintendents Association.

This funding windfall helped many schools reach their goal of one device per student, or at least greatly increased the number of digital learning devices available. 

While it’s unlikely districts will see the continued influx of dollars they received over the last 20 months, education leaders can take steps to ensure digital learning devices are sustainable in the future.

How schools can make the most of electronic devices

  1. Purchase devices that maintain their value. As stewards of taxpayers’ dollars, districts are charged with making smart technology investments. Unfortunately, some districts equate “smart investment” with “least expensive.” While a lower upfront cost may be enticing, the practice of purchasing high-quality equipment that holds its value can provide districts with a lower total cost of ownership.
  2. Consider selling back used devices. When you buy a new car, it’s not unusual to drive it for a number of years before selling it and using the proceeds to defray the cost of your next car purchase. This practice allows you to always drive a late-model, reliable car without paying full price out of pocket. This is exactly how school device sellbacks work. Tapping into the remaining value of used devices allows districts to greatly reduce the cost of future technology purchases.
  3. Understand the future value of devices. Digital learning devices have a useful life span, but they ultimately begin to fail or lose compatibility with current operating systems and third-party apps. School leaders can work with a reputable device buyback company to determine the optimal time to sell back devices: the point when devices are beginning to lose teaching effectiveness yet residual value is high.
  4. Budget technology as an operational expense. Instead of thinking about technology purchases as a capital expense that must be funded every three years or so, budget technology purchases as yearly operational expenses that are as essential as electricity and Internet connectivity. To budget predictable costs for edtech devices, districts can lease them over a three- or four-year period. Most leases today have low interest rates and allow districts to “purchase” the equipment at the end of the lease for $1. Districts then can sell back the used devices and use the payout to buy down the next lease or expand the number of devices leased.

Reselling used devices is a fiscally responsible way to ensure the sustainability of digital learning programs that have grown over the last two years. To continue the march forward, districts need to begin planning sustainable programs today.


Paula Currie is vice president of procurement for Second Life Mac.


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