The COVID-19 pandemic essentially ended the conversation about whether school districts should embrace 1:1 programs that put a computing device into the hands of every student. Districts nationwide deployed devices, and now they have to figure out a way to build device refresh cycles into operating budgets.

Often, technology is purchased with one-time, nonrecurring funds, such as bond money. More recently, schools received multiple rounds of federal funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, the Emergency Connectivity Fund and other grants.  But the lifecycle for mobile devices such as laptops and tablets is much shorter  than the lifecycle of a school building, according to a report by EdTech K-12 magazine. In a 2022 CoSN study, 75% of districts said federal economic stimulus funds were significant for supporting hybrid learning. Of those that relied on emergency funding for IT initiatives, 60% used the money to purchase devices.

However, those funds are nonrenewable, and schools face a funding cliff within the next year. Districts must plan now to refresh these tech investments or they’ll struggle to give students ongoing access to technology and may put themselves back in a position where they can’t pivot to remote instruction in an emergency.

Chris Mertens, vice president of U.S. end-user sales for B2B displays at Samsung Electronics America, offers these tips for K-12 IT decision-makers who are considering updates to their existing equipment.

Develop a detailed action plan: A district’s plan for tech updates should cover the products it will be purchasing as well as steps for installation and an itemized budget for all necessary hardware and software. “Consider the total cost of ownership, including the initial purchase amount and projected costs over time,” Mertens says.

Involve end users: Mertens urges districts to consult with teachers about IT purchases. “Listen to their ideas and concerns, and check in regularly on how well they’ve adopted the technology,” he says. Don’t overlook the importance of training and tech support.

Set strategic measures of success: Quantitative measures such as learning improvement and cost savings are important, but they don’t paint the whole picture, Mertens says. “Consider qualitative goals too, such as boosting teacher satisfaction or student engagement in a new collaborative learning environment.”