Using CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Funds to Future-Proof Schools
By Chris Gazdic | September 7, 2021
Read Time: 9 Minutes
When the United States government released $190 billion in CARES Act and American Rescue Plan funding for the education sector, it paved the way for school districts across the country to take necessary steps to cover expenditures incurred during the recent pandemic.
"If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that nobody was as prepared as we thought we were,” says Travis Askew, regional vice president at Solutionz, Inc., a national provider of end-to-end AV solutions backed by leading support services for commercial, SMB, education, healthcare and government organizations.
Askew also optimistically points out, “There has never been a better time in the education market to close the technology gap that the pandemic has exposed. CARES Act funding makes it possible.”
An Opportunity to Look Ahead
Funding from these recent stimulus packages can be used to cover costs related to necessary expenditures with respect to the pandemic. School districts have utilized the funding to purchase hardware, software, connectivity and a host of other educational technology products.
Educators hesitant to jump on advancing technology can find peace of mind that these investments have a place in the future of education; they were also gaining traction prior to the pandemic.
“Technology can create an all-inclusive, positive education environment that gives students access to what they need to learn at their own pace, hear or see the lesson more clearly, and add flexibility into the teaching/learning environment,” says Sheri Murphy, education business development director for Liberty AV Solutions, a subsidiary of Wesco. “The technology that we used throughout the pandemic, and will continue to use as the pandemic winds down, is very similar to where we saw trends veering pre-pandemic.”
Education Trends During the Pandemic
Technology plays a huge role in improving the student’s learning experience. According to the Alliance for Education Solutions, “research shows that a high-quality learning environment significantly and positively impacts a student’s educational and life outcomes."
According to an April 2020 Household Pulse Survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics—the primary federal entity that collects, analyzes and makes available data related to education in the U.S. and other nations—72 percent of adults reported that their children’s classes had moved to a distance learning format using online resources.
Many common education trends we have seen in recent years have gained momentum during the pandemic. These trends are only going to continue to amp up and demand for the technology will follow suit.
Hyflex: Hybrid classrooms, sometimes referred to as “hyflex” or hybrid flexible in higher education, enables students to learn wherever they are and on their terms. This flexibility creates more equitable access to education and equality in learning outcomes.
Audibility: Ability for all students to hear clearly, no matter where they are in the room.
Nanolearning: Allows students to receive information in smaller chunks and over shorter periods of time. Prerecorded content or learning modules can be viewed on a range of devices.
Flipping the Classroom: With the flipped classroom approach, students are introduced to a new topic prior to coming to class, so when they meet, their time is used to process and apply what they initially learned. Prerecorded lessons are key in a flipping-the-classroom scenario because it lets students watch lessons as often as needed—a beneficial resource when introducing new or difficult content.
Experiential Learning: This learning model involves immersing students in real-world situations.
Augmented and Virtual Reality: AR and VR can be used in conjunction with experiential learning.
AI-Based Chatbot: Chatbots can be used to deliver personalized learning content.
Integrators can proactively help school administration and education technology directors establish a core technology infrastructure that can be used as a springboard for futureproofing learning environments, positively impacting the overall education experience for their students, teachers and even parents.
Key Questions When Examining Your Ed Tech Program
“Typically, what we see is a five-year, or maybe seven-year, refresh of the technology life cycle. What we, as integrators, do is take a holistic view of the cycle,” says Askew. “As we migrate away from analog to digital, there will be a lot of questions around what the future of that technology is going to look like.”
Keep in mind the following:
- What type of technology-based learning programs (e.g., hybrid classroom, prerecorded lessons, etc.) will be implemented in the next five years? Seven years? Are there trial programs currently being tested or implemented?
- What should the classroom layout look like?
- What does the video connectivity snapshot look like in the next five to seven years?
- Does the technology require a physical connectivity?
- Will there be a wireless component for transmission?
- Would a rolled up HDBaseT piece be better in this situation?
- What about a USB-C that’s a hybrid between data and video?
- What worked or didn’t work during the pandemic?
“When we assess a project, we’re not only thinking about the display technology that’s in the classroom, but we’re also thinking about the PCs the teachers are using and making sure the solution we offer ensures those things are in concert with each other for however long the life cycle is for the end user,” Askew explains.
Top Tech: Product and Solution Considerations
As you design or build out a technology-enhanced classroom, consider these solutions for your next project.
Wired content sharing: Premade cables such as HDMI and VGA, bulk wire and cable such as category and speaker cable, connectivity wall plates, and wall plate extenders for HDMI.
Wired interactive sharing via HDMI + USB: Premade cables such as HDMI, USB and USB-C, interactive display, and USB and a combination of HDMI/USB extenders to connect the teacher’s computer to the interactive display.
Going online: HDMI and USB signal extenders, USB peripherals such as USB and collaboration hubs to expand the connectivity, premade cables such as HDMI and USB, and network infrastructure including cabling and hardware.
Interconnected classroom: Premade cables such as HDMI and USB, camera, ceiling microphone, room microphone, speaker, large format display, keyboard, mouse, docking station, wall plate, and connectivity kit.
You can build upon the solutions with these additional products listed below.
- Audio: Speaker (sound reinforcement), speakerphone, microphone (voice reinforcement) and all-in-one devices.
- Video: PTZ and/or wide-angle USB camera, interactive learning display, document camera, display and monitor.
- Connectivity/Accessories: Signal extender, connectivity kit, HDMI cable, USB cable, USB hub, analog and digital wall plate, display mounting equipment and cable management.
Dodge Disruptions: Consider Convenience Factors
Large-scale deployments can be disruptive and lack of prework can leave schools vulnerable to completion delays. These delays could have a domino effect and impact other maintenance or activities, even during off-hours or summer months. Doing upfront prework helps to ensure that technology installations go smoother and what you’re left with is a solution that is ready, working and waiting for teachers and students.
“Prework, such as kitting, going through the process of preconfiguring, equipment testing and combining all your installation components into a simplified package, is a game changer. When a project is kitted, the customer is getting a premium installer who is efficiently using their time to install the product and not assembling on site. They get cost savings in time and convenience,” says Askew.
Maximize Efficiencies With Kitting
From production to installation, kitting allows every aspect of a project to be more efficient. It saves time, speeds up the rate of deployment, ensures products arrive in working order and reduces unproductive labor on jobsites. All necessary components, including hardware, software, infrastructure and consumables, are labeled with applicable on-site routing information, which makes getting the product to its destination much easier.
“Everything needed for that installation is where it needs to be. All components have been tested and are ready to go, eliminating out-of-the-box failures and inconvenient returns to the site. The result is a timely deployment,” Askew says. “With kitting, we pick up the economies of scale with how efficient we can be from a production standpoint. We can do the preparatory work upfront so our lead technicians are only doing the installation work. For example, without kitting, technicians used to be able to install 10 rooms, but with kitting, they are able to complete 15 rooms or maybe more in the same amount of time.”
Unpacking the CARES Act Within the Education Sector
Federal guidelines stipulate what the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan funds can be spent on and states are allotted different amounts of the money. With a date of September 2022, the deadline to use the $190 billion in education funding is quickly approaching.
The process can be overwhelming and tricky to navigate. This is where integrators can be a partner to their customers at the local school levels and be assets to school administrators and tech directors by helping them to design, refresh and implement an enhanced technology classroom.
However, missing the CARES Act deadline does not mean missing out forever on funding. There are additional resources available to help educators find funding for their next projects. For example, Solutionz offers a service where their team of program and grant experts partner with customers and guide them through the entire applications process, including one-on-one consultation, identifying potential funding resources, and following best practices guidelines. While Solutionz does not provide direct grant writing support, they do have referral capabilities to outside grant writers and more.
Wesco offers products and predeployment operational and technical expertise, including kitting and configuration services, to support integrators and their education technology directors as they look to upgrade their infrastructure.
Learn more about our education solutions, or for further assistance, contact your integrator. If you are a tech director or business manager and need to find a reputable integrator, reach out to us. Through our network of EDGE global business partners, we can connect you with integrators like Solutionz, who can support you throughout your next project.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Gazdic is part of the Wesco digital transformation team, focused on improving customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements, such as IoT, audiovisual and IT convergence, and “as-a-service” subscription-based and managed service product offerings. Prior to supporting the digital transformation team, Chris was an integral part of Liberty AV Solutions, working as the director of product management.