At SchoolKate Sheppard
School Budgets: How Schools Are Managing The Issues Around Inflation

Inflation is a hot topic right now, and we are all feeling its effects. From our day-to-day spending, to the cost of your weekly grocery run, everything has risen quite significantly. 

In fact inflation is at its highest since 2008 as consumer prices jumped by nearly 8% between October 2021 and October 2022.

This hike in prices is being felt far and wide, and especially in the education community. As energy bills soar and material cost increases, schools are concerned with paying more for things like trash pickup, insurance, electricity, and even things as simple as pencils and basic equipment. 

The thought of schools not being able to supply kids with the basic supplies needed to draw is one thing, but classrooms having to worry about keeping the lights on is another thing entirely.

So how are schools coping with an increase in costs?  In this blog, we’ll walk through measures schools are taking to help alleviate some of the strain of rising costs due to inflation.

Find Government Grants

During the pandemic the government was very forthcoming with money to support education initiatives but the period for spending this funding is rapidly coming to a close.

Schools are now left with a 2024 deadline to spend the funds allocated in 2020, but due to inflation, costs are extremely different now. 

Many districts are looking for ways to ‘top off’ their funds and continue the advancement of their students, with the use of hard won grant money. 

This means working incredibly hard to win grants from the government, and then working doubly hard to ensure that this money is spent efficiently in order to have the maximum impact for students. 

Bridging Education Gaps with Technology 

Schools all over the country received ESSER funds to help tackle the difficulties that the pandemic brought; but now the nature of the beast has changed. We are no longer facing empty classrooms and lessons hosted on Zoom, but out-of-date and expensive-to-replace infrastructure. 

A huge problem that faces the youth of today is the ‘gap’ in their education brought on by the pandemic, and how their schools are going to help them catch up. 

Granting access to technology suites and implementing online courses for students is arguably the best way to do this - but it comes at a big price.  

A rather small 20% of the issued funds allocated must be spent on attempting to recover that lost time, and statistics show that 10% of the funding has been spent by districts on technological upgrades- but it should be more. 

Programs in the United Kingdom offer several different ways for schools or individuals to apply for funding for new or leased technology suites. These computers and devices allow for a more complete educational experience in more places, especially for those who don’t have the same access at home. 

Similar programs do exist in the US, however there are more restraints and complications due to the nature of the system.

An estimated 71% of districts have planned facility upgrades that would include upgraded computer networks and systems in the near future, although this could all change due to the skyrocketing cost of materials and labor.

Canceling ‘Non-Essential’ Projects 

Many schools across the country with plans to upgrade facilities and modernize buildings, are struggling to see these plans come to fruition. 

A huge amount of these have been canceled due to supply chain issues, rising costs and projects that are being deemed ‘non essential’. 

Schools across the US now can't even afford to upgrade things as simple as their footpaths, so securing grant money to upgrade computers is more important now than ever before. 

School Supplies: It’s the Little Things

Sometimes the smallest items can have the biggest impact. 

Some teachers in areas of Arkansas, for example, get an annual stipend of $500 dollars to spend on classroom extras. That all sounds well and good, until you find out that the amount given has not changed in 15 years! 

Combating an 8% cost hike in a single year would make this amount ineffectual, let alone the previous 14 years of cost changes. 

This leaves teachers across the US having to dip into their own pockets to ensure the classroom has what it needs to function. In fact, many are turning to social media, and sharing their Amazon Wishlists with the local community, in the hope that locals and parents can help.  

Things like book covers, scissors, pens, and pencils have all increased by up to 22% in the last year, leaving schools who were already pushing the boundaries of their budgets in even more distress.

If you do come across a teacher in the community with a wish list, or simply asking for help, then now is a great time to consider helping if you can.

Buying Generic: Avoiding the Named Brands 

Even things as small as avoiding the ‘named’ brands of pencil are being considered by staff as a cost saving measure, leaving classrooms filled with items of lower quality; which any parent will tell you means a shorter life span in the hands of a child. 

Purchasing generic or store-brand items is a relatively effective cost cutting measure in the short term - paying for hundreds of binders at a $0.50 a piece price reduction makes a big difference - but the long-term effects will likely mean buying them again in the not-so-distant future.  

The Power Struggle

As we all struggle to come to grips with the new reality of electricity bills that are 15% higher than last year, just imagine how bad things are for buildings like schools. 

With hundreds of rooms to heat and thousands of lights to be switched off (or left on!) it is estimated that schools spend $8 billion dollars per year on energy.

Schools are turning towards eco-friendly solutions like energy saving light bulbs, reduced operation of heaters and air conditioners, and ensuring that things like computers and printers aren’t running for no reason.   

On a scale so large, things as simple as asking your students to turn off the lights when they are finished in a room can go a long way! 

Back-to-School Shopping

Not only will the  schools feel the heat of inflation in the upcoming school year, but parents will too as they get ready to send their kids back to school.

There is good news and bad news here. According to certain studies, parents will actually spend around 2% more on getting their kids ready for school this year, which doesn’t sound too bad.

The bad news is, everything else is more expensive so parents will be forced into prioritizing different things, and having smaller budgets for their kids.

The Final Word

Schools are going to struggle for a while - at least until the government can slow inflation and begin to reallocate funding to our schools. 

One of the main issues in the upcoming years will be ensuring that the damage done by the pandemic is kept to a minimum, and students and their teachers can be given all the tools they need to fill in the gaps left by their absence from the classroom. 

Teachers are largely trying to take control of their spending, and you should give them all the support you can, as well as trying to save your own cash when making sure your child is fully equipped for the year ahead.

Although there are plenty of negatives surrounding the rising costs, there is one small crumb of positivity we can take away from all this; as schools attempt to save money, they are turning to eco-friendly, green solutions to minimize excess usage and bring down costs. Although it would be better to see it done for different reasons, it’s still a very good thing! 

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. 

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