Technology has become a necessity for almost everybody. The education field is no different. Students from higher-income families may have access to a wealth of digital technology. But those from lower-income families must be selective about the devices they purchase. Families typically opt for a cell phone over older paper-based technology like printers, checkbooks, copiers, and fax machines.
According to Pew Research Center, nearly every American owns a cellphone of some kind. Surprisingly, 15 percent of American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users. Their phone is their only access to the internet. So if your district serves low-income communities, going paperless will not only benefit your staff but also your students and their families.
What hidden fees do low-income communities have from paper-based processes?
If your district still relies on paper-based technology for communicating with families, you may be saddling parents with hidden fees.
Our report shows less than 50 percent of households making at most $34,000 a year have home access to a printer, checkbook, or stamps. Less than 25 percent of households with that same income range have access to a copy machine, fax machine, or scanner.
If a guardian needs to use paper to communicate with staff, they'll need to pay for it out of pocket. When families don't have regular access to a car, they need to pay for public transportation costs to commute to a location that offers printing, mailing, copying, or scanning services that are likely at a cost, as well.
Furthermore, businesses offering these services may only be open during traditional business hours. Parents may need to miss work to access a printer, copier, or scanner. This quickly becomes a costly inconvenience for low-income families.
What might seem like an insignificant cost takes food off the table for families without the budget. Insignificant fees are felt the most by those of us with the least.
How do paper-based processes create inequities for low-income families and schools?
Cell phones are lifelines for low-income families due to their multiple use cases. For example, a parent may use their phone to text or call their child's teacher or even apply for jobs, but paper-based processes are not mobile-friendly.
If a school reliant on an antiquated system responds to a record request or needs a signature from a guardian, a low-income individual can’t complete those tasks as easily. They may have to pay for transportation and various services to fulfill what should be a simple request. Just one piece of paper may be practically free for a family making over six figures but could easily cost money for a lower-income family.
Paper-based processes negatively impact low-income schools as well. Hardware like printers, copiers, and fax machines require paper, ink, maintenance, and replacement require additional funding. The additional human resources needed to completely these inefficient processes means funding staff salaries to do tasks that don’t move the district forward. A digital process can free up those human resources to focus on school or district program improvements. Those costs add up and can't be ignored when they prevent the school or district from moving forward and becoming a prosperous environment for staff, students and families to flourish.
Low-income districts and schools are already working with a limited budget. In some cases, they may have to take money from other areas to fund old paper-based processes. Students feel the impact the most when that happens.
How technology improves access for low-income communities
Our report shows that more than one-third of surveyed district members would prefer to conduct business online. So not only are families frustrated with the lack of digitization, but staff members are as well. That inconvenience is amplified in low-income communities.
Paperless records management
K-12 records management allows you to support schools and families with efficient and streamlined digital records management. Managing records digitally ensures equal access to valuable information for everyone.
Digital online enrollment
Your district can also streamline application processes with an enrollment and choice solution. Paperless schools can gather all necessary student information through secure online forms and applications. Your staff can say goodbye to hours of sifting through hundreds or thousands of physical documents—it's just one of the many benefits of going paperless.
Since most Americans have access to smartphones or the internet, putting processes like records requests or registration online, especially in a mobile-friendly environment, makes a difference in the time and money needed for families to support their children.
Recommendations for Title 1 school district leaders
If you represent a Title 1 school or district, serve a lower-income community, or have lower-income families attending your district, you should consider the costs associated with paper-based processes and how these processes could be more accessible for everyone.
If your district has the resources, ease the burden on low-income families by implementing paperless technology to streamline various processes and communications. There may be some initial costs to digitizing processes. But when that choice creates more access for low-income communities, the investment is worth it.
Create digital equity with Scribbles
No matter the income level or resources of your families or staff, equal access to student records is a universal need.
Paper-based technology is a historical practice but is not an accessible option for many low-income families and schools. Those in lower-income communities tend to have more access to digital technology, such as mobile cell phones. Going digital will ensure parents can reach the district easier and that schools will have the resources needed to serve their students.
Learn more about the benefits of going paperless in school districts by downloading our latest report below.
Download our report to get access to research key findings!