Today’s computer-chip technology enables administrators and school safety officials to capture a wealth of information on traditional student identification cards. It is now common to place information about a student’s address, eligibility for reduced-price meals, library borrowing privileges, and transportation needs on a single card. The cards also can track student attendance automatically and alert administrators who may want to contact students’ homes if they are not at school.

School officials say these single data-laden cards have improved the efficiency of their tracking systems and made things easier for students, too. In many schools, students used to carry several cards–one for building access, another for the library, and a third for the cafeteria. These new data cards also take the payment functionality a step further by allowing parents to put a certain amount of money on the card, which the student can use for various expenses (food and attendance at athletic events, for example) without having to carry cash.

One of the primary drivers of these cards is security. Thus, many cards are now linked with numerous security-type systems. For example, students are given a toll-free number they can call in an emergency; by giving their card number when calling, they can get appropriate help. Advanced programming can be used to restrict student access to certain buildings on a high school campus or restrict access to certain hours. Similarly, students can be stopped electronically from being able to use the prepaid cards at school candy and soda vending machines.

New systems are inexpensive–cards cost less than $1 each–and are so powerful that cards can be created in minutes. One company that manufactures these cards is IDenticard Systems Inc. of Lancaster, Pa. (http://www.identicard.com), which supplies the Allen Independent School District in Texas with its ID card system.