Navigating the School Purchasing Cycle

Like so many things in our lives, events of the last few years have upended the timeline for the school purchasing cycle. The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it new school purchasing needs, such as laptops, online learning resources and HVAC systems, and these items were needed immediately—not on the typical buying timeline. Then came the influx of ESSER funds into school and state budgets to help address these emerging needs. Soon many districts will need to adapt their budgets to reflect the upcoming discontinuance of these federal funds and find new funding sources to fill any gaps. The result? While the stages of the school purchasing cycle may have remained the same, the calendar may be different depending on the funding source.

New school year, new goals

When the school year ends, school leaders typically have their plans in place for the fall. They are focused on the upcoming school year, setting their goals and assessing their needs up to a year in advance, traditionally from May to October. During this phase of the cycle, school leaders are setting their priorities for the next year, thinking about the gaps they need to fill, and determining the budget they have to support their needs. In late fall, with the school year underway, they are making plans for the next year.

The School Purchasing Cycle Planning Phase


Once school leaders have determined what they need and how much they have to spend, they begin to look at the landscape of what is available to them. During this phase—typically November to April—they are visiting companies’ websites, attending conferences and trade shows, and looking for free trials or review copies of materials they are considering.

This is an important time for you to get your products in front of educators as well as to deploy email and social media campaigns to support the trade shows you are attending and face-to-face demos your sales representatives are hosting.

The School Purchasing Cycle Research Phase

Purchasing decision time

Typically purchasing decisions are made right before the end of the school year—in April or May. Needs have been assessed, research has been completed, and budgets are set. Purchase orders tend to go out right after July 1, when the new year’s funding has been allocated with the goal of having new tools and resources in place for the start of school. Of course, this timeline slides a bit depending on the geographic location of the district. Schools in the South and Southwest tend to wrap up the school year earlier in the spring and head back in August.

During this phase, it is critical to be nimble and quickly get school leaders quotes and agreements that are designed to meet their unique needs. And as those orders come in, you will need to be ready for the next phase, which may include teacher training on your products, support for implementation strategies, and resources for deployment, such as lesson plans and FAQs. Also, with today’s increased parental involvement in schools, you may want to prepare information for them about the new tools and resources their children will be learning with when they head back to school.

The School Purchasing Cycle Purchasing Phase

New funding sources, new timelines

As mentioned above, while the stages of the school purchasing cycle remain largely the same regardless of the budgetary source, the timeline could change based on spending deadlines. For example, federal ESSER II funds have an allocation deadline of September 30, 2023, and a spending deadline of January 28, 2024. ESSER III has a September 30, 2024, allocation deadline and a January 28, 2025, spending deadline. And funding extensions were already granted to some states who hadn’t allocated all of their ESSER I funding, so it is important to keep an eye out for any changes. Also, don’t forget about year-end “use it or lose it” spending, which districts inevitably face at the end of the school year. You’ll want to build that sales opportunity into your marketing timeline.

The evolving timelines for the school purchasing calendar can be confusing and challenging to navigate. MDR is here to help as you develop your plans and campaigns to support upcoming school purchasing cycles. Reach out to us today!