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PTAs Play Vital Role in Funding Tech at K – 12 Schools

26 May 2015 by Susie Steckner

Laptop carts. iPads. Smart Boards. Digital curriculum.

The list of technology needs goes on and on in today’s K – 12 classrooms, and increasingly PTOs and PTAs are agreeing to foot the bill. Traditionally called on to pay for school supplies or field trips, parent teacher groups are earmarking thousands of dollars for special technology funds to help their schools build 21st century classrooms.

These funds are covering everything from tablets to projectors to dongle cords. In some cases, they are even paying salaries to ensure that schools have a tech expert on campus.

PTA leaders say these tech investments are critical for cash-strapped schools and will help ensure that students are career and college ready.

“Technology is a part of every adult worker’s life. If we’re not engaging our children in technology and having it be a part of their lives now, we significantly limit their opportunities in our global society,” said Carrie Hancock, president of the Hopi Elementary School PTA in Phoenix.

Boosting Teaching and Learning

As states continue to cut education spending, PTOs and PTAs are taking on a larger role to pay for a wide range of school needs.

The groups are not only covering the cost of basics like dry erase markers and copy paper but also big-ticket items like playground equipment or part-time instructor salaries. Increasingly, they are expanding fundraising to add technology to their budgets or are opting to skip traditional items in place of technology.

A PTO Today Spending Survey for 2013-2014 found that the financial pressures on parent groups continues to grow. More than half of groups said that they were being asked to do more financially during that school year than the previous year.

Other findings included:

  • The top two expenses for parent teacher groups were student enrichment and technology.
  • Leaders spent on average just over $3,800 on technology (hardware and software) compared with about $2,400 during the 2011-2012 school year.
  • 35% of leaders said they are being asked to do “somewhat more” to benefit the school financially than in past years; another 19% responded that they are doing “much more” in that regard.

In addition, schools that have lost salaried staff because of state budget cuts are asking for more PTO and PTA volunteers to take over certain jobs at school, adding to the responsibilities of parent teacher groups. The survey showed 47% of groups reported being asked to do more on campus.

Tech Spending

In some cases, parent teacher groups are boosting existing technology programs by paying for additional devices and supporting needs like headsets. In other cases, the groups are spearheading large-scale initiatives to bypass slow-moving bureaucracies and get classrooms up to speed as soon as possible.

The groups’ efforts run the gamut in terms of expenditures and goals:

  • At Edna Maguire Elementary School in California, the PTA spent nearly $67,300 on technology purchases, including 90 iPads, 30 MacBook Air laptops and two iPad laptop carts.
  • At Concord Elementary School in South Carolina, the PTA’s technology fund paid for new technology for the Media Center, including two laptops, two video cameras, two microphones and lighting. The equipment is being used to create a closed-circuit Morning Show for students. The PTA also purchased 10 Chromebooks for student research. Leaders are working toward the goal of providing at least one laptop per classroom.
  • The Melinda Heights Elementary PTA in California spent $3,500 to pay for substitute teachers so the school could have two teachers troubleshoot tech problems on site and give tech support to other teachers and staff.
  • The Foothill Elementary PTO in Colorado set a 2015-2016 fundraising goal of $10,000 for a range of tech investments, including new Chromebooks and educational programs and apps for Chromebooks and iPads. The group also wants to cover replacement costs of old and broken technology.

But parent teacher groups face a juggling act in terms of prioritizing overall spending. After surveying teachers, the Friendship PTO in North Carolina saw a clear division in terms of needs, the PTO president told PTO Today magazine. Teachers in the upper grades focused on technology and teachers in the lower grades asked for playground improvements.

“After we did our big technology purchase, we had some money left over for playground improvements over the summer,” the president, AnnetteYaudes, told the magazine. “Kids enjoying time outside every day is important, too. We wanted to not be so narrow-minded that everything is tech, tech, tech.”

Using Technology Every Day

The Hopi Elementary School PTA in Phoenix has invested heavily in the school’s technology program over the past several years, said PTA president Carrie Hancock.

The PTA has purchased almost 250 iPads so that each grade level has access to an iPad cart, and each teacher has one, too. The group also kicked in funds to help partially cover the cost of almost 200 new Chromebooks for the school. In addition, the group pays for professional development for teachers so they are able to better incorporate technology into teaching and learning.

What’s more, the PTA pays the salary of a tech mentor who supports the school’s computer labs, helps teachers with tech needs in the classroom and oversees things like software updates.

Hancock has two children, a fourth grader and kindergartner, at the school. She sees firsthand the vital role that technology plays in the classroom, from classmates collaborating on a project via Google Docs to students using the online component of their core math program to supplement learning. Even the youngest students are using technology to boost learning with tools like interactive white boards.

“They are using technology interactively every single day,” she said.

As states continue to cut school spending, PTAs will play a more important role enhancing school tech programs. Without the Hopi PTA’s investment?

“I think we still would have very innovative teachers, but I think they would be writing a heck of a lot more grants,” Hancock said. “I think that our community has enabled technology to be a much more integrated part of everyday instruction.”

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