Bulk purchasing power grows in K12
The reach of K12 bulk purchasing and co-op agreements has expanded substantially as more districts join to save substantial amounts on everything from software to playground equipment, according to a recent AASA report.
Education funding has recovered somewhat since the 2008 recession, yet 73 percent of superintendents surveyed consider their district still “inadequately funded,” says Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of policy and advocacy at AASA and author of the report.
In response to budget constraints, 64 percent of districts reported joining bulk purchasing groups or co-ops—up from less than 11 percent five years ago, the report found.
“If you can get economy of scale or lower unit prices by collaborating with another district through a co-op or regional service agency, that’s smart and fiscally prudent,” Ng says.
By purchasing through one of these agreements, districts can save 15 to 20 percent from the catalogue price of a product, adds George Wilson, executive director of the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies, a co-op that incentivizes vendors to provide lower prices for large-group purchasing.
“It’s become a more appealing option as budgets tighten,” Wilson says.
How it works
Small, geographically isolated or impoverished districts that lack resources to buy new curriculum, PD or online course access may benefit most from joining a purchasing group, Ng says.
Purchasing group membership often occurs on the state level, such as in Kentucky, which is a member of AEPA. Every district in the state belongs to one of eight education co-ops that join together in a contract with the purchasing group.
Membership and costs for each district are dependent upon which local agency they are a part of, Wilson says.
AEPA’s 36 vendor partners offer schools joint pricing on everything from school supplies to software to playground equipment. A superintendent interested in purchasing certain software, for example, can check the co-op’s website to see if the product is available through their bid. If a product is not included, the superintendent can ask their state agency to lobby the co-op to offer that product.
A 2 percent administration fee is built into the bid price of every Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies contract. This amount goes to the state agency, and a portion of that goes back to the purchasing group.
Non-member states can also join already-established bids to get the same savings, Wilson says.