Federal pandemic relief money directed toward schools will be vital to ensure limited gaps in learning during the 2021-2022 school year. With a trio of COVID-19 relief bills allotting nearly $300 billion to schools nationwide, it now becomes critical for those schools to ensure that spending aptly prepares them to face any and all obstacles to keeping kids safe and in the classroom.
One fundamental element to help schools achieve this goal is technology. There exist a number of technological solutions, not just in classrooms but for back-office operations as well, that school districts must leverage to ensure their resiliency against future COVID-19 spikes, facilitate in-person learning for students, and safeguard against misappropriation and misuse of government funds.
Prioritizing resiliency over continuity
School districts will inevitably face small breakouts of COVID-19 in their populations for the foreseeable future. Districts should double down on their investment in the resiliency of their contingency plans to ensure that children and back office staff can continue to go about their business even when flare ups of the virus occur.
Rather than merely devising backup plans for when chaos strikes, districts should go further to prioritize technology investments that promote business resiliency -- that is to say technology that allows districts to absorb and adapt in a fast-changing environment, fortifying their operational immune system.
Districts must be confident that their digital processes are stable enough to withstand another shock to the system. Investments in automating routine back office tasks for educators and officials will free up time for them to focus on higher priority decisions in times of crisis. Automating financial processes, too, can help districts better prepare for unforeseen stressors and do more with less. Financial process automation, for instance, gives officials a clearer picture of real-time cash-flow and resources at hand in the event of an emergency.
Taking steps now to invest in technology that make school districts more resilient to future shocks will pay off down the road.
Empowering educators with technology
Even before the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of education, investments were being made in its digitization. According to EdSurge, ed-tech startups raised a record $1.7 billion in investments in 2019, signaling the direction the industry is heading.
In 2020, resources further shifted away from traditional school expenses such as paper products and were reallocated to technology that facilitated remote learning such as video conferencing platforms like Zoom. With digital curriculum spending expected to increase by $2 billion in 2021, according to a report from The Learning Counsel, school districts should invest in technology that empowers educators.
Tools that streamline workforce management, including structuring more intelligent workflows for educators and administrators, will help free up labor time to reallocate to more meaningful tasks. Administrators should look to adopt tools that are user-friendly to encourage high usage levels, while also ensuring that they are safe in the cloud and comply with strict public sector security protocols.
By enabling educators with technology and teaching them how to get the most out of the latest tech solutions, school districts will benefit from a more powerful workforce in times of disruption.
Anti-fraud technology to ensure integrity of investments
Given the large amount of government funding schools will be receiving for COVID-19 relief, issues of fraud may arise. Recently a state audit uncovered evidence of fraud and misappropriation of funds by current and former employees of Sweetwater Union High School in Chula Vista, California. The incident affected the district to the tune of $43 million, leading to budget cuts and protests from faculty. Looking ahead, similar incidents could occur with the incoming Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) loans.
School districts must be prepared by leveraging technology that can track and record expenses, as well as the impact and ROI on these investments. Tech that will better report the use of funds will also be critical. School districts should consider what unique expenses may arise with the incoming funds, and, analyze if they have the needed transparency in place to know where their expenses are going.
There are a number of machine learning software platforms made specifically for this type of fraud detection. In fact, there is so much demand for these types of solutions that more than a quarter of all venture funding for AI in banking is for fraud applications. Schools can leverage those same software platforms to use in their accounting teams.
Fortunately for K-12 officials, there are some modern expense management platforms from top software firms that are designed specifically with schools in mind. One such solution is SAP Concur expense and invoice management tools. They give districts the ability to easily integrate expense and invoice data, as well accurately gauge their budgets in real time. And, through automated accounting processes, school districts can save time while boosting financial transparency. Organizations that don’t have these necessary safeguards in place to keep constant track of expenses are vulnerable to losing up to 5% of their total revenues to fraud.
During the 2021-2022 school year, prioritizing investments in technology will keep school districts resilient against future shocks, empower educators, and safeguard against misappropriation and misuse of government funds, putting them on a path to succeed during the next phase of the pandemic and beyond.
For over twenty years, Phoenix Business Consulting has been a trusted SAP solutions provider for Public Sector organizations including State agencies, Local governments, Educational institutions, and Special Districts. Combined with SAP Concur’s leading-edge travel and expense management capabilities, Phoenix brings an unparalleled service offering to help Public Sector agencies to dramatically simplify and streamline their travel and expense management processes. Find out more at https://phoenixteam.com/