Related to lower revenues from what has been called the Great Recession, many states have cut funding to both K-12 and higher education, and even as the economy recovers and some of that funding is restored, education funding is still behind where it was before the recession. Consequently, schools are turning to technology to help them save money.

For example, 48 states—all except Alaska and North Dakota—are spending less per student on higher education than they did before the recession, with the average state is spending 23 percent less per student than before the recession, according to the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, a Washington-based think tank focused on state and federal budget priorities. The cuts to K-12 education have been only slightly less dramatic, with at least 34 states providing less funding per K-12 student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession. Thirteen of those states cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent, the organization continues.

In this cost-cutting environment, here are seven ways that schools are turning to technology to save money.

Reducing printing and paper use: A number of the “101 Smart Revenue Generators (and Money-saving Ideas)” from University Business involve eliminating paper processes for finance tasks such as employee reimbursements and refund processing, and introducing paperless alternatives such as electronic billing for tuition and online class registration. Document management can also help reduce paper use in accounts payable, as well as limiting printing in general. “If all entities that did business with the University of Houston System (UH) were paid via ACH, the university could save $100,000 per year,” notes UH president Renu Khator. Not only does this save money on printing supplies, postage, and paper, but it also can lead to the next item on our list…

Streamlining business processes: Some schools are hiring business process specialists to look for ways to make procedures more efficient.The savings realized through the work of an analyst can more than pay for themselves,” reports eSchool News, especially when combined with a switch to electronic processes. Examples of processes that could be streamlined include purchase orders, payroll, and maintenance requests.

Special-purpose applications: Some schools are finding that they can save money through the use of applications intended to help them better manage food services, room use, utilities such as heating/cooling and electricity, textbooks, and school buses.

Everybody into the pool: Some districts save money by implementing shared services, pooling resources and having a single source for cloud technology, other IT services, and even administrative services such as secretarial. For example, IlliniCloud, the Illinois internal cloud consortium, saves its member districts between 30 percent and 60 percent annually on IT costs, District Administration reports.

Reducing the cost of communications: Schools can save money over the traditional phone-on-every-desk system. They can do this using technologies such as unified communications, voice over internet protocol (VOIP), and Skype, and business processes such as centralizing the purchasing and setup of communication technologies, According to eSchool News, 54 percent of school IT executives said the top benefit of unified communications was reducing operating costs, followed by increased productivity (50 percent) and more reliable communication (44 percent). In addition, some schools are finding that these technologies mean they can put a phone in every teacher’s room, which improves security.

Saving on computers: In some cases, schools are replacing computers because they were using Windows XP and were concerned about security risks now that Microsoft has stopped supporting that operating system. Some schools, such as St. James Catholic School in Gulfport, Miss., are taking the opportunity to move to Chromebooks, which are no-frills notebook computers that cost $200, as compared to a traditional desktop running Microsoft Windows, which generally cost about $1,000. Other school districts are saving money by buying refurbished computers instead of new ones. Refurbished computers can cost as little as one-third of new computers, eSchool News reports.

It’s true that investing in technology can result in some upfront expense, but in the long run, it can save on operational costs. Best of all, it can result in better educated students—and that’s the best investment of all.

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