Jan 6th 2017 | Posted in Mary Scott Nabers' Insights by Mary Scott Nabers

When the digital device world exploded and it became the norm for individuals of every age to have at least a couple of personal devices, most public schools required students to check them at the door. The devices were seen as classroom distractions. Not anymore!

Today, according to a 2016 survey from the Consortium for School Networking organization, only 11 percent of K-12 school districts nationwide ban the use of personal devices by students. In fact, most now encourage their use.

A lot of things have changed in public schools over the past several years, but no change is more significant than shifts related to technology. Today, the problem is that schools throughout the U.S. are long on needs and short on funding.

One of the biggest challenges for school districts is insufficient broadband and network capacity. Survey respondents said that is the top priority for K-12 schools. Wireless access and mobile learning were also identified as high priorities.

At a time when businesses throughout the state, particularly in high-growth industries such as manufacturing and energy, are clamoring for skilled workers, the importance of providing students with opportunities for the best of technology and digital learning must not be understated. Educating Texas students to meet future workforce needs ensures a positive impact on the state’s economy. Accomplishing that task, however, will also help keep the country competitive globally. The big hurdle to accomplishing everything needed is simply finding the financial resources. To say that the learning environment for IT has been challenging is a gross understatement.

Another of the key issues facing public schools, according to the survey, is the ability to maintain secure networks and the privacy of student data. Schools are similar to private-sector businesses when it comes to data security. In some cases, schools have more personal information stored because they require information that includes Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, health information, parents’ data, etc.

A rather serious computer hacking occurred last April, when 20 schools in the North East Texas Independent School District were infected with ransomware – software that blocks access to computers until a ransom is paid. Although no personal student data or information was compromised, fears regarding IT security issues began to grow. A month later, web sites of a half dozen school districts in West Texas were victims of a ransomware attack on the Region 11 Education Service Center servers. As Service Center IT professionals worked around-the-clock to restore web sites, the realization that security had to be more robust was sobering.

With rapidly changing technology, increasing concerns over cybersecurity issues and limited funding, technology challenges will continue to escalate for education officials. And with limited resources for high-paying jobs, IT departments will continue to struggle in the competition for IT talent and technology professionals.

Given these challenges, many public school officials are now seeking private-sector partners. In addition to helping to provide innovative solutions, private-sector partnerships offer technology expertise as well as investment capital. That is very attractive to public officials. The technology partnerships, a growing trend, appear to be working well.

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.