Three Ways COVID-19 Disrupted the K-12 School Buying Cycle

Every November, Merriam-Webster picks the “word of the year.” For 2020, it was “pandemic.” (Go figure!) While it is still a bit early for the 2021 word to be announced, it might well be “disruption.”  And among the things that have been most disrupted over the past year or more is the way that we purchase things and the funds available to do so.

Just look at the hundreds of cargo ships off the coast of California, containing goods from around the world, waiting to be unloaded. The world’s supply chain has been disrupted and it will likely take months – maybe even years – for a course correction. Which raises the question, “What impact has the pandemic and its disruption had on the K-12 school buying cycle?”

We’ve followed and reported on the changes in the traditional K-12 purchasing cycle over the past 18 months as school closures, the switch to virtual learning, and the ultimate move back to face-to-face learning changed both when schools were purchasing and what they were buying. Now the 2021-2022 school year has brought about its own challenges and opportunities.

  1. School calendar changes. In many communities, while the calendar was announced before each school year, it typically mirrored past practice. For example, in some communities students go back every year after Labor Day and in others, especially in warmer climates, they go back in mid-August. This school year, calendars around the country have been upended as district leaders changed them to try to make up lost time from 2020-2021 or to build in extra days they anticipate may be lost this year due to quarantines or closures. With this brought changes to the purchasing cycle, as back-to-school expenditures were made earlier and the typical spring purchase decisions for the next academic year will likely shift to earlier in 2022. It is important to revisit the school calendar for key customers this year and not rely on what was done in the past as you reach out with marketing campaigns.
  1. New and competing priorities. School closures and other disruptions brought on by COVID-19 have presented school leaders with new and competing purchasing priorities. Ensuring that students returned to a safe environment has brought about an increased emphasis on updating school HVAC systems and purchases such as new classroom furniture. Changes in the workforce resulted in a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers, forcing superintendents and principals to use resources to find creative ways to provide student transportation. After the isolation of lockdowns and remote learning, school leaders and parents are also placing an increased emphasis on providing students with support for their social emotional health and resources are being allocated in that direction. Many of these changes are resulting in purchases that need to be made immediately – rather than following the traditional K-12 buying cycle.
  1. Infusion of federal funding. States and school districts have access to billions of dollars of federal COVID-19 relief money with a number of deadlines for spending these dollars over the next few years. The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, alone includes $122 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. States have developed individual plans for spending this money and districts are now charged with investing this infusion of dollars in programs that align with those plans and improve learning for students in their districts. Once they have established those priorities, they are going to need help from the education industry in identifying appropriate products, services, and resources to help them achieve their goals. To support you as you work with districts as they allocate this funding, you can track its distribution in MDR’s MarketView.

Yes, it has definitely been a year – or more – of disruption. But with disruption often comes innovation and transformation and by working closely with the education community, your company can support this positive change. As your trusted partner, MDR is here to help!