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Digital Learning Budgeting Across Your Leadership Team

Transformative Budgeting For Wisconsin's Future Ready Digital Schools to Support the Wisconsin Digital Learning Plan 

wdlp Preface

This publication was commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction with two purposes in mind. First, it is intended to provide Wisconsin school districts with background and case studies related to transformative budgeting. Second, it provides Wisconsin school districts with federal and state sources of funding for information technology and digital learning. This publication re-purposes a paper on Transformative Budgeting that Metiri developed for the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). This re-purposing is done with express permission from NJDOE.

Introduction to Instructional Ed Tech Budgeting


Accompanying Presentation


The Introduction

The state of Wisconsin has set digital learning priorities in the 2016 Wisconsin Digital Learning Plan. The plan was designed as a roadmap for schools and their partners focusing on three key goals for digital learning in schools:

  • Making learning more meaningful and relevant for students.
  • Making learning more accessible to economically disadvantaged students.
  • Making learning more cost-effective upon implementation.

The Wisconsin Digital Learning Plan identifies key milestones in that roadmap to those three goals. Those milestones are centered in learning environments in all schools that are equitable, personalized, applied, and engaging. Thus, it is these indicators of digital learning success to which Wisconsin schools and districts aspire. While a significant challenge to their goal of digital transformation is scarce resources, this does not have to be a show stopper. The fact is that how a district spends those scare resources matters a great deal as to whether or not they achieve their digital learning goals as outlined in the Wisconsin state plan.

This resource is intended to address that challenge by prompting districts to think about budgets differently—leading to transformative budgeting processes that enable digital transformations within existing budgets. How does that work? by tightly aligning district goals and strategic investments in digital learning and technology. When districts annually budget and allocate funds according to district programmatic priorities, and when their decisions are informed by the data on program effectiveness, digital learning goals can be accomplished within existing budgets. In some cases that mean shifting funds from to support alternative strategies (e.g., shifting textbook funds to digital content), whereas in other cases, it means explicitly and strategically funding what matters and what works. In both cases, zero-based budgeting (at least for discretionary funds) may be just the strategy a district needs to enable innovative, transformative budgeting in a district. Zero-based budgeting allocates funding based on program efficiency, necessity, and priorities rather than budget history.

The Wisconsin state plan notes that, while formal technology plans are no longer required by state or federal statutes, it is strongly recommended that districts use the 2016 Wisconsin Digital Learning Plan as a planning guide to achieving short and long-term digital learning goals. Districts are encouraged to integrate digital learning planning into their district strategic and continuous improvement planning processes. The Plan’s alignment with federal and state laws, policies, and initiatives makes it a valuable resource as districts implement the components of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

To jump-start such thinking, this paper provides new budgeting ideas and scenarios of Wisconsin districts implementations of transformative budgeting are provided alongside scenarios from out-of-state districts. A 3-step process for implementing transformative budgeting is also provided.

Achieving Efficiencies

In fact, the U.S. Department of Education, in its National Education Technology plan indicates that innovative thinking, technology planning, partnerships and transformative budgeting can lead to opportunities for strategic uses of available funds and resources. Each strategy below provides a short descriptor and references to states that have implemented these strategies.

  • Leveraging economies of scale: At both the multi-district and multi-state levels, school systems can negotiate more favorable rates with vendors by collaborating with others seeking similar devices/services. Louisiana, Maine, Illinois, North Carolina, among other states have done this successfully.
  • Public-private partnerships: Cross-sector collaboration can prove mutually beneficial. What major businesses/industries are in this region? They have a stake in ensuring students graduate digitally literate and may be willing to partner in funding, device donation, connectivity sharing, or training to advance that purpose.
  • Cross-agency coordination: Some states and districts leverage higher education or medical facility resources to boost education access.
  • Device refurbishment: Repairing, upgrading, and reusing devices business/community members no longer need can create both an educational opportunity and a source of low-cost devices. In making its transition to online assessment, Delaware used this strategy.
  • BYOD and student wireless access: Some states and districts leverage the devices students already own, carefully considering privacy, security, and logistical issues. In other locales, it may be possible to negotiate very low rates for student wireless devices and services, which they could use both in and out of school.
  • Strategic decommissioning: What activities or resources are no longer needed? Areas to consider include paper textbooks, copy machines and supplies, fax machines and supplies, copper-line phone service, paper supplies, consumable workbooks, in-person trainings where virtual or peer-to-peer options exist, printing (schedules, grades, announcements etc.), and others, depending on context.
  • Leveraging student experience: Where can students themselves serve as technologists, professional developers, and technicians? How can students support educators in advancing their technology-based professional capacity?

Most states are deeply involved in digital transformation discussions. Wisconsin is no exception.This paper is intended to assist districts in rethinking traditional budgetary approaches in order to find possible ways to fund technology initiatives by re-purposing existing funding sources, or through transformative budgeting. Where available, scenarios that document transformative budgeting in Wisconsin School Districts and nationally are including in this paper. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is interested in collecting and publishing additional profiles of districts or schools that have met the challenge of funding a shift to digital learning in innovative ways. If you would be willing to share your district’s economic efficiencies that enabled progress with digital learning, please contact Janice Mertes at Meanwhile, others have already implemented various aspects of such digital transformations such as district-wide 1-to-1 initiatives, personalized learning, multi-modal digital content/resources, digital portfolios, etc. Most of these districts have faced, or are grappling with funding issues for their digital conversion. 


The identification of specific vendors and products throughout this document is provided for informational and background purposes only. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction does not directly or indirectly endorse any of the identified vendors or products and has not independently reviewed, or substantiated, the representations made regarding the identified vendors or products. Additionally, as the document presents examples from other states, Wisconsin school districts are advised to ensure that they adhere to all applicable Wisconsin statutes and regulations before implementation of any of the scenarios presented. Please consult with your Board of Education attorney, district auditor and/or E-Rate consultant prior to entering into any transaction suggested within this document.

Developed by the Metiri Group, c2017