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Why Some Schools Pay More Than Others When Buying From Apple | WIRED

WHEN ADMINISTRATORS IN Ohio’s Mentor Public Schools were buying MacBooks during the 2015-16 school year, the local Best Buy was offering a lower price than Apple, even after the company’s standard discount for school districts. Superintendent Matt Miller pushed for a better deal, but Apple said it would not budge from its price list. The company prohibits most third parties from selling new devices to school districts, so Miller couldn’t place a bulk order with Best Buy as a district official.

Frustrated at the thought of spending money he could use elsewhere in his budget, Miller devised an extreme workaround. He told Apple he would buy gift cards for each of his 2,700 high school students, bus them to Best Buy and let them purchase their own MacBooks. He threatened to invite local news outlets and create a media circus.

Apple backed down. While the company listed those MacBooks at $829 per device, it charged Mentor Public Schools $759 each, according to school officials. The 8 percent discount saved the district nearly $200,000.

Miller, now superintendent of the Lakota Local School District in Ohio, can be a bulldog at the negotiating table, but thinks he shouldn’t have to be. “I’m just tired of fighting that fight,” he said.

Miller is one of many vocal critics of the wide disparities in education technology pricing, which he and others contend is becoming an increasingly pressing problem as more devices and software enter U.S. classrooms. Almost 14 million devices were shipped to schools last year, up from 3 million in 2010, according to the market research firm Futuresource Consulting. Technology has become a vital component of teaching and learning, and it is considered a classroom requirement to adequately prepare students for life after graduation. The market research firm IDC estimates that $4.9 billion was spent on devices by K-12 schools in 2015, and the Software and Information Industry Association estimates that nearly $8.4 billion was spent on software.

Yet the same device or program can cost more from one state to another and even from district to district. Responsibility to negotiate with vendors falls on school districts that often do not have the time or resources to drive a hard bargain. Many also don’t have information about discounts that other school districts have received, and, when purchasing from a company like Apple, which has a reputation for being rigid with pricing, some district officials don’t even know they can ask for larger discounts.

The Benefits of Transparency
Although purchasing information is technically public, it is not widely disseminated and is rarely available online. School officials’ knowledge is often limited to the information they can get by calling colleagues in other districts — if they even have the time to do that. Some educators and advocates have begun to argue that more shared information and pricing transparency would help schools save money. The Technology for Education Consortium, a nonprofit formed to facilitate exactly that, estimates that school districts could collectively save at least $3 billion if they all got the best deals on hardware and software purchases. That’s nearly 23 percent of the total amount spent.

And there’s evidence that increased transparency works.

Efforts by the national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway to publicize how much districts pay for broadband have allowed many school systems to negotiate bandwidth deals to get greater capacity for a fraction of the cost. With school budgets stretched thin, even small deals on ed tech can make an impact.

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Why Some Schools Pay More Than Others When Buying From Apple | WIRED.

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