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Pay Theory Launches New Purpose-Built Payment Solution for Education

Vertical Payments Software Widens Remittance Choices for Schools, Families, Including Cash Options for Unbanked

Pay Theory, a Cincinnati-based startup, has launched a new payment processing platform with the mission of making school fees and payments straightforward for all involved parties: families, educators, and administrators.

Pay Theory’s simplified payment architecture integrates into the educational tools schools are already using, allowing them to transfer money from a parent into a school or vendor’s account by way of a credit or debit card transaction, an electronic check, or by a barcode for cash payments. For a simple transaction such as paying for a field trip, a school would issue the fee through an online form, and parents would pay the fee within the same form via Pay Theory at checkout. Pay Theory’s accounting and rostering data integrations give school administrators and parent-teacher organizations better insight into reporting and allows them to reconcile payments quickly. 

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“If you’re a school using dozens of vendors running many different payment platforms you’re doing it by hand, spending upwards of 40 hours a month on reconciliation,” says Eric Fulkert, co-founder and CTO of Pay Theory. Pay Theory is the solution to a pervasive problem in the education world in that schools are forced to use business solutions that don’t fit their needs. The result is schools miss out on chances to increase efficiency, engagement, or save time; and ultimately, students suffer from inefficiency between schools and parents.”

As is the case with most payment processing vendors, business solutions are shoehorned to fit school processes. One issue with legacy payment portals is that school systems purchase out-of-the-box tools, then try to make the school’s needs fit the software, when it should be the other way around.

Some school systems might have more of a need to include an integrated option for reduced-price lunch, for example. Other payment platforms might require eligible households to pay full price, then get reimbursed. In such cash-poor households, this system would lead to an undue financial burden. Schools pick a solution, but the parents pay for the tools with service fees. Schools spend time on manual tasks, while parents face confusing online portals. Parents and schools pay to muddle through systems that don’t fit their needs.

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“Family tech is an untapped, tech-lagging space that is being transformed by a fast-growing number of SaaS applications. The primary focus is to improve relationships between service providers and families,” says Pay Theory CEO Brad Hoeweler. “Pay Theory, which is purposefully designed for this space, beginning with education , is an innovative software provider that possesses a deeper understanding of its stakeholder families and their service providers target market than any general-purpose solution.”

For the roughly one-third of American public school parents who are under- or unbanked, making online and credit card based payments is extremely difficult, and paying school fees can be burdensome. Families struggle to track and pay school fees, and schools miss collecting revenue. Many families are intimidated or locked out of using the banking system, and rely on physical cash and check cashing to make household finances work. Undocumented parents have little to no access to credit cards and the banking system.Schools are forced to decide between financial inclusivity and modern technology, leaving in the schools in the position of wanting to upgrade their administrative systems yet not wanting to leave students and their families uncomfortable from not being able to access payment platforms. This situation has only been exacerbated amid virtual learning and COVID-19, as students and parents are unable to make school-related payments in person.

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According to 2016–’17 statistics from the National Education Association, payments for K-12 public education-related expenses are estimated to be some $80 billion. Pay Theory helps families who don’t have a bank account by giving them the option to pay for school-related costs in cash. Using one of nearly 45,000 retailers nationwide, including CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens — and not more than a mile from 90 percent of homes in the US — a parent can opt to pay for a school-related expense using cash. Parents click “pay cash” on the form and in turn, get a barcode that the retailer scans once the cash payment is received. The payment is logged digitally, meaning an immediate reconciliation for the school, and a safer option than sending cash with students.

“At Pay Theory, we believe the choice between cash and credit shouldn’t be a barrier to education,” says Fulkert. “Schools can cut or eliminate cash on campus without discrimination by banking or immigration status. We believe that by helping schools and parents, we can create better educational outcomes for students.”

The benefits that Pay Theory bring to the entire education ecosystem are manifold. School finance departments have better visibility to see paid for, outstanding, and failed payments. School districts will benefit from seeing a higher proportion of transactions within Pay Theory accounts, which makes tracking, reconciliation, and reporting similar across all the schools in their districts. Parents/guardians are able to easily see expenses that are outstanding and when payments are due.

Additionally, whereas other payment processing companies charge schools to use their platform, Pay Theory offers its platform for free for families, vendors, and schools.

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