School Boards across the country are passing resolutions asking Congress to stop drastic education funding cuts that automatically go into effect January 2, 2013, if the impending “fiscal cliff” is not stopped.They’re also looking at hard numbers – how many teaching jobs would be lost; how classroom sizes would increase; and what programs would be eliminated – if hundreds of thousands of dollars vanished.
It seems districts are constantly told to do more with less. More than 300,000 local education jobs have been lost since June of 2009. The national student-teacher ratio increased 4.6 percent between 2008 and 2010. Further, the costs for K-12 education services have increased 25 percent.
But even if major education funding cuts are avoided for now, districts will almost always wrestle with growing and shrinking staff resources.
Advancing technologies, however, can help offset some of the continuous challenges districts face. Online and mobile payment systems, for example, can serve as valuable business and administrative partners for the district, as well as their educators and staff – and the children and parents they serve.
Embracing technology has become an important focus for school districts. During the 2009-10 school year, it was estimated that 1.5 million K-12 students were engaged in some form of online or blended learning.
And now districts are turning to technology that extends beyond the classroom, to provide staff the digital tools to reduce costs and alleviate pressure from cuts in educational funding.
Managing traditional cash and check payments can disrupt the learning environment as teachers take on additional work of collecting fees.
That disruption extends beyond the classroom and into other school operations. Cafeteria lines, for example, can become longer and slower as foodservice staff takes time to handle a mix of cash and checks – and to help children who forgot their meal money. The leaders of extracurricular activities balance nurturing children’s outside interests with managing financial transactions.
A paperless system, however, establishes a relationship directly between the payer and the district. This direct approach allows educators and staff to focus on their core mission: to deliver the best educational experience possible.
Teachers focus on classroom instruction; band leaders focus on perfecting their musicians’ art; coaches perfect their teams’ crafts – not collecting and securing payments.
And with prepaid accounts that integrate with modern point-of-sale systems, slow lines and forgotten lunch money can become non-issues for cafeteria staff.
Children carrying varying amounts of cash and checks can also be a security concern. Payments may travel from home to bus, through crowded hallways and busy lunch breaks – and even sit in unattended book bags – before they ever make it to their official collectors.
And then those payments still have to be counted, accounted for, secured and processed.
That model requires a lot of effort from parents, students, teachers, business staff and others in a cumbersome step-by-step process that could become an easy enabler for theft.
Online payment systems offer added layers of security. They eliminate opportunities for children to lose cash or checks that contain sensitive account information – and remove people from the process of handling cash or checks. All transactions are conducted in a safe, secure environment that adheres to established standards within the banking and financial industry.
Registration for field trips, athletics, tests and other activities can also post a security threat. Paper registration forms that include sensitive information – home addresses, social security numbers, phone numbers, credit card numbers, medical histories and more – can be easily misplaced or stolen.
Advanced electronic payment systems offer online registration that stops children from carrying sensitive information between home and school – and alleviates the potential for third parties to obtain that information. This technology keeps the parent in control of securely sharing sensitive information directly with the district.
In addition to traditional Web access, more parents are finding mobile applications complement their on-the-go-lifestyles. With just a credit card and a tablet or smart phone, mobile apps allow parents to securely pay their children’s meal fees – and even see what they’re eating for breakfast and lunch.
And the importance of mobile devices steadily continues to grow across the generational divide. In 2012 it was estimated that 44 percent of U.S. adults have smartphones, up 35% from 2011. Research also finds nearly 60 percent of teens own a smart phone.
By the end of 2014, 490 million people will be using their mobile devices to make payments, including in-app payments, mobile ticketing and mobile coupons.
Districts that recognize the demand for both online and mobile payment options can give the families they serve more choices in how they manage their children’s educational experiences – and can be seen as delivering higher levels of service to the community.
School payment technology is quickly becoming smarter, and districts across the country should be looking to it not only to fill voids – but to prevent them, as well.
About Horizon Software International
Horizon Software International (www.horizonsoftware.com) is the innovative leader in software, services and technologies for K-12 food service and online payments, with over 12,000 installations nationwide. The company, a Microsoft Partner Gold ISV headquartered near Atlanta, GA, operates as a unit of Roper Industries, Inc. Roper Industries is a market-driven, diversified growth company and is a constituent of the Fortune 1000, the Russell 1000, and the S&P 500 indices.