It’s all about the ROI

Return on Investment
Speaker Becky Lockhart
Speaker Becky Lockhart

I feel a little bad for Becky Lockhart. Her ambitious goal to bring a bunch of technology into classrooms has hit a major stumbling block as the Senate countered her $200M proposal with an offer of just $26M. Obviously, the  problem is going to be money. We only have so much of it to spend, and raiding the transportation budget seems to have ended up as a non-starter. I think this provides a very important lesson for legislators who want to get an ambitious spending plan approved: focus on the ROI.

I know you’re not really supposed to treat government like a business. They operate in very dissimilar ways. This doesn’t mean the concept isn’t valid. When it comes to spending, you always need to find ways to justify your program. The best way is to focus on the results. In the case of spending for technology in schools, you could define those results in educational achievement, efficiency in delivering the material, or parental satisfaction. My personal favorite, though, would be making a financial case that it saves the state money long-term.

“But wait,” you say. “How can you save a bunch of money when you’re buying a bunch of new equipment? That’s crazy talk!” This is where you have to get creative. The low-hanging fruit is in electronic textbooks. There’s already a number of free ones available to be used, modified, and redistributed however you please. For the price of a single paper textbook, you could get a durable ereader to replace it. Even with building the infrastructure to support updating the textbooks, ongoing review of the texts to ensure they are kept up-to-date, and device replacement, you’re looking at a payback of savings within a few years.

And that’s how tech could manage to get into schools. Instead of trying to make a big and bold investment, you find a way to free up the funds using easy projects. Those funds can then be rolled into buying more advanced devices and better network capabilities. Best of all, it doesn’t require finding a lot of sources of new money; you just free up existing inefficient spending. Sounds like a win-win to me.

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