As federal, state and local governments continue to contend with shrinking budgets coupled with an expanded need for services, many are turning to private contracting as a means to offer the same services at a lower cost, and education has seen a tremendous amount of growth in this regard in the past year.
K-12 education innovations, such as providing ed tech tools and training, an increased focus on STEM subjects and a greater need for tools to meet the shifting assessment standards for curriculum and performance among students led to a 20% growth in contracts, according to a new report by Onvia, a firm that tracks shifts in the business-to-government sector populated with private contractors filling a variety of needs.
The company assessed the top ten fastest growing categories for private contractors. Education innovation came in at second on the list, charting the growth between 2015 and 2016; Texas saw an 11% growth for bids and requests for proposals in education services, New York grew by 8% and New Jersey and California both increased by 7%.
“With the future of national standards in question, there is a sense of uncertainty among educators but also genuine confidence that regardless of what happens on the political level the tactical work of equipping teachers, shaping materials and refining strategies will continue,” the report stated.
Ed tech and blended learning opportunities are becoming increasingly common in K-12 classrooms, and money for ed tech startups has matched the demand; a report by EdSurge from last year found that though the 2016 total for venture funding dollars decreased from the 2015 total, it still surpassed every year since 2010.
The increase is leading to a wider array of ed tech companies and options for principals and administrators to select from, which can sometimes be a hindrance, with principals sometimes bemoaning their heavy reliance on vendors to explain ed tech capabilities,which often leads to the vendors inadvertently dictating the needs of the school. The Onvia report specifically noted that the rise in blended learning concept taking root in classrooms had led to a more pronounced need for accessible and affordable tech tools like Chromebooks.
As districts contend with tighter budgets, they’ve also looked to private contractors to offer school bus services, which was the 10th fastest-growing field for business-to-government services. Onvia cited a study that found 71% of school districts sought private contracting for food, custodian or transportation services in 2015, up from 31% in 2001, and 27% of districts in 2015 sought contractors for bus services, a seven-point hike from two years prior. The report noted privatization could boost revenue for districts which can sell vehicles, and it can also remove legal liability for public worker benefits.
“While privatized educational services have their share of critics, school funding difficulties will continue and there is a more business-friendly administration at the federal level,” the report read. “In this environment, there is a strong potential for further growth in private bus services in the coming years.”
New Jersey saw a 29% increase in private bus service contracting between 2015 and 2016, with New York fairly behind in second with a 17% increase. As districts throughout the country seek to offer more amenities on schools buses, including the possibility of using those buses as Wi-Fi hotspots as one Texas district endeavoured to do last year, a more pronounced move towards privatization could act as a hindrance or a source of greater opportunity. Districts seeking private contracting for their school bus services can try to seek out companies that may be able to offer innovations and benefits that they may not otherwise be able to access to afford.
Additionally, the report cites improving disability access services, upgrades for smart lighting in government facilities and helping government agencies to better expand their IT capabilities and connect with different agencies as fields where the private contracting bids and RFP frequency grew rapidly between 2015 and 2016, all of which are fields that can inadvertently affect school facilities in the years to come.