A Bigger Piece of Federal Funding Pie for Schools with Struggling Lunch Programs

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Under-fed districts learn the importance of keeping accurate, centralized records of free and reduced-fee meal data can maximize returns.

Food Service Solutions is now offering a software for schools that will improve their means of identifying poor students, while protecting their privacy. This will enable districts to establish accurate accounting records in order to qualify for maximum state and federal funding. Studies show that many schools suffer from insufficient funding because they fail to qualify every student who is entitled to a free or discounted lunch at the school cafeteria. With this new system in place, administrators and parents can also keep track of balances and student eating habits.

Answering the question "How poor are you?" may seem unsavory. But school districts that don't properly assess the economic status of its student populations will have no luck sweetening the pot when requesting federal and state funds. As a result, schools facing rising food costs coupled with budget shortfalls have been forced to hike school lunch prices for paying students and rely more heavily on less nutritious processed food.

Sometimes, with older accounting systems, the truth is plain as day and unintentionally segregates poor school children from the throng. For example, students might be asked to verbally declare their status in a school lunch line - within earshot of other students. Or rather than pay with cash, students eligible for assistance are issued vouchers or ID cards that, when presented at meal time, immediately identified their economic status. The embarrassment causes some students to do without food rather than be seen as less fortunate.

The older accounting system was not user-friendly either. School officials could not see personal account balances as each student went through the line as they can with the new biometric technology. Instead, to check balances, administrators would have to print out an entire list of lunch accounts at the end of the day.

Also, while the card-carrying system kept the background of each student confidential, it created other problems. On days when they did not intend to eat lunch, some students would loan their cards to friends. As a result, cards were often lost or stolen and replacing them created more work for already busy school officials.

The FSS system has succeeded, in part, because it makes laborious - and sometimes ineffective - administrative tasks so much easier. The new system also makes it easier for student and staff customers to pre-pay for meals. The system offers a good way of tracking that money. Parents can go online, via the MySchoolAccount.com feature and see when their child has eaten, and if they have money in their account. If there's a question, they can print out an accurate statement to clarify.

This new technology speeds up the verification process of all registered students so that school lunch lines move faster. Also, since there is no need to carry cash for payment - students can pre-pay meals - no student stands out as wealthy or poor.

For more info about biometric identification systems, write to FSS Inc. at 1227 Eleventh Avenue, Altoona, PA 16601; call (814) 949-2037; fax (814) 946-7572; or visit their website http://www.foodserve.com

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HEATHER METCALFE

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