Schools are increasingly relying on digital payments for the cafeteria and activities — a trend that is proving  to be fertile ground for payments technology as frantic parents seek ways to keep their kids properly fed and supplied for their education. 

"You may get to work and realize your kid is going to eat lunch in an hour and doesn't have the funds in his school account to pay at the cafeteria. With our app you can fund the accounts directly," says Terry Roberts, executive director of Heartland School Solutions, a division of Heartland Payment Systems.  

Heartland School Solutions recently launched mySchool Bucks, a mobile app that provides parents access to their children's school-related payments and allows budget-constrained school districts to manage costs. The use case—parents remotely paying school fees for their children—is relatively new to mobile payments but is drawing attention. The Heartland app had 20,000 downloads in its first month, and has attracted school districts in Florida, California, and other states.

Other payment companies are targeting school payments. PushCoin, a mobile prepaid provider that lets parents allocate money into school accounts for their children, recently deployed a lunch mobile payment app at Wheaton Academy , a private school in the Chicago area.

"We considered it a priority that kids can move through lunch lines similarly the way cars move through electronic toll-collection points on highways," says Slawomir Liszianski, one of the founders of PushCoin.

Virtual Piggy, a youth-focused online payments company, also has school payments on its radar.

"We have had some discussions with potential partners and think it would be an elegant collaboration with tremendous opportunity," says Jo Webber, founder and CEO of Virtual Piggy, who also praised the Heartland offering.

School lunch payments have a lot of longstanding friction, she says. "Heartland has developed a nice solution to this problem [by] allowing the parents to prepay for their children's school lunches. As we continue to move away from a cash-based society, this kind of technology will become more prevalent," she says.

Fiserv's Popmoney does not work directly with schools, but the person-to-person payment service can be used in a manner similar to Heartland, says Tom Roberts, senior vice president of marketing for electronic payments at Fiserv.

"Someone such as a teacher could use Popmoney to request money from parents and track the status of the requests. Parents would receive a record of payment through the service," he says. "We also commonly see Popmoney used by parents to send money to their child's bank account."

Mobile payments technology is a good fit for households where both parents are employed and neither has time to manage a checkbook, says Andy Schmidt, a research director at CEB TowerGroup.

"People are incredibly busy … and realizing that you forget to pay for a field trip for your kid when you're about to get on a plane is a terrible feeling," Schmidt says. "By having a solution like [Heartland's], you can set up a payment and forget about it, like a bill."

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