Following the lead of two other school districts in the state, San Antonio, Texas’ Northside Independent School District is planning a pilot program that tracks students using transmitters inside identification cards. Why? For the money, apparently.
Next year, ID cards outfitted with Radio Frequency Identification System (RFID) technology will be given to students at John Jay High School, Anson Jones Middle School, and all special education students who use district buses — totaling around 6,290 students, according to The San Antonio Express-News. If the pilot program is successful, the district wants to use the ID cards at all of its 111 schools, with a student population of almost 100,000. The Express-News reports that the district plans to spend $525,065 implementing the pilot program and $136,005 per year to run it. District officials say the the ID cards represent a big potential revenue stream.
State funding for school districts in Texas is tied to attendance numbers, Northside Independent School District Deputy Superintendent Brian Woods told TPM in an interview Tuesday. The ID cards would help keep more accurate figures, and “reconcile” cases when a student is reported absent but is actually present somewhere else on school grounds, like the nurse’s office.
“Any increase in weighted average daily attendance comes commensurate with state funding,” Woods said.
According to Woods, even a small bump in attendance numbers would mean a lot more money for the district. If the program is implemented system-wide, he said, an increase of .5 percent in attendance levels, along with Medicaid reimbursements for special needs students who ride district buses, it would net the district $2 million to $2.5 million more each year in funding.
Woods said he understood questions about privacy and security that the program has prompted, but he argued that the school already holds, and protects, sensitive information about its students, like Social Security numbers and grades.
“The data itself is maintained on a server that we own,” he said. “The system itself is password accessed.”
Woods thinks privacy concerns will fade. He emphasized that the ID Cards will only be able to track students on school grounds and, in the case of specials needs students, on district buses. As a result, Woods said the program would have only limited potential use for disciplinary purposes.
“The technology itself is not new, and there is another school district that has used it with a lot of success,” Woods said. “But I think as people take the time to understand what we’re trying to accomplish, that the comfort level will go up.”
The district has contracted San Antonio-based Wade Garcia & Associates to provide the technology. The company “specializes in solutions for identifying, monitoring, tracking and locating any object positioned anywhere - indoors or outside.”
RFID in schools isn’t new to Texas. The Spring and Santa Fe school districts have been using the technology since 2010.
Northside Independent School District’s school board unanimously approved the pilot program last week.
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Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com