« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - The school software mess

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Two of my kids are in middle school. They use the Infinite Campus computer program to check their classroom assignments, projects, and grades. Parents can also check to follow their kids’ progress through the school year. By all accounts, Infinite Campus is an example of fine computer software. My kids, who are “end users”, give the program good reviews.

Infinite Campus is the Minnesota company that won, and is now about to lose, a state contract.

Their competitor, Skyward of Stevens Point, has succeeded in undoing a ‘single vendor’ mandate from the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Under the old plan, all schools in Wisconsin would have to change over to Infinite Campus software. Skyward would lose all its school district customers (200 or more) in Wisconsin. That change is likely to be undone in the new state budget.

Since my kids go to an Infinite Campus school, I have no way of knowing about Skyward. I’ve heard from many people that Skyward’s software is also a very good, high quality product.

All Skyward wants is to chance to compete. The state had set up an all-or-nothing process. Why? The state needs schools to report certain data (things like student attendance, graduation and drop-out rates, certain test results, etc). Some districts’ computers didn’t speak well with the state’s computers. The state wanted one software package that would transmit the data in one way. That’s legitimate. But the process that picks one vendor over all others isn’t.

What if the state said: here are the reporting requirements for computer programs used by school districts in the state. Schools can pick any software they want, as long as the data is transmitted to us in this way. Software vendors who want to do business in Wisconsin will re-work that part of their programs to comply. Rival programs would look different, work differently, but would still spit out their data to Madison the same way. That addresses the state’s concerns, and keeps the marketplace open to anyone who wants to compete.

Skyward was right to complain about losing its client to a rival. Infinite Campus also has a legitimate complaint – they won a state contract that will likely be taken away. The fault lies with Wisconsin’s DPI. This is a classic case of the government picking winners and losers. Bureaucratic thinking trumped the free market, and created a royal mess.

Chris Conley
5.31.13