When it comes to edtech, educators and districts often know which products they want to use, but don’t always know how to procure them. Likewise, edtech vendors may successfully connect with district leaders, yet encounter hurdles in securing contracts despite interest from all parties.
In my previous role as the executive director of purchasing for Fort Worth Independent School District (ISD) in Fort Worth, Texas, it was my job to build bridges between edtech companies and our district—while staying compliant with our state’s laws and local policies. Often, I observed a knowledge gap on either side of the bridge: Why is there so much paperwork required to be an approved vendor? Why can’t we just buy what we need from the company we want to buy it from?
One solution is a purchasing collective, or coop. In this blog post, I’ll outline how procurement works in Texas, and how vendors can leverage coops to do business in our state. While this blog post focuses on my experience in Texas, many coops have expanded their market well beyond their region/state and award contracts that can be utilized nationally.
When a school district aggregate purchases greater than $50,000 or anticipates spending over this amount in any area for a school year, there must be a formal competitive process to procure that good or service. This threshold requires that we advertise in the newspaper, provide details of what is to be purchased, ask for pricing or discounts for competitive comparisons, collect the necessary forms/certifications, and seek agreement on contract terms.
This aggregate concept also means that districts must group similar products or services. These are referred to as a “commodity.” For the edtech community, commodities can include hardware, software, or other automated means of providing educational practices. The spending in any commodity can easily surpass $50,000 for a school year, and as a vendor, there is no way for you to know how much a district has spent or plans to spend.
The state of Texas allows districts to meet competitive procurement requirements by buying through a cooperative. A coop is a purchasing group that, on behalf of its members, solicits responses from the vendor community and makes awards that can be used by its members. Since a coop must follow the same statutes as school districts, it meets the competitive procurement requirements for its members.
Since most districts are already members of multiple coops, as a vendor you will need to win a contract awarded through one of these coops.
When I was looking for a specific company that my district needed, I was alway relieved when I found that the vendor was awarded a contract for the commodity through a coop my district was a member of. In addition to saving time, the coop leverages the buying power of all its members to secure better pricing than we could independently.
As a vendor, you will first need to register with a coop, so you will be informed that a solicitation is open for you to respond. Of course, you will have to respond and compete for an award based on the criteria advertised. Most coops make multiple awards because it helps satisfy the needs of more of its members.
Don’t get me wrong—winning a coop contract award is a time-consuming process, but the good news is that you are putting a procurement solution in place so that the school district doesn’t have to deal with it. Even if a district is not a member of the coop from whom you have won a contract award, it is less time consuming for the district to join that coop than it is for the district to accomplish all the steps of a formal solicitation.
To get started, contact the purchasing department of the district you are marketing to and find out which coops they are a member of. They may even have their coop list on their website. There are so many coops today that you can simply search “purchasing cooperatives in Texas [or any state]” and find a listing!
Remember, we are all on the team to advance educational outcomes and improve the lives of all students.