Did you know that there is competition in schools for everything from grading programs to soda machines? Did you know that YOUR experience at school is partially dictated by the companies that win these contracts? Let's take a look at some of the facts that surround the secrecy of school vending machines.

First of all, vendors want to force schools to choose one company as a sponsor. Then the company (let's say Pepsi or Coke) makes a one-time payment to a meat-head football coach or athletic director (who was somehow left in charge of making the decision in the first place). After that, the sponsor goes on making large profits and the school might get a small percentage of sales. The key is that the big money comes once for the school and for the next decade for the vendors. 

The lack of choice comes next. The school district is contracted to sell items for the vendor. While there might be some choice as to which unhealthy drinks get sold, it's still left up to an outside sales entity rather than anyone (other than the football coach) in the school district. Profit margins might be large for bottled water, but sales are much higher on sugary drinks, so the vendor a district chooses will likely push only some healthier options. The lack of choice may also extend to snack foods, depending on the contract. And it is a contract.

Hidden expenses eventually emerge. Each refrigerated vending machine costs $400 a year to run. Maybe more or less, depending on when it's plugged in. If electricity costs skyrocket, a district is not exempt from the signed contract, but the big question is whether or not each school district makes enough money to offset the cost of running the machine each year AND take a small profit to the sports programs (or heaven-forbid academic programs). Another hidden expense is the vending machine inefficiency, paid for by students. If parents purchase the drinks at the grocery store, each 16 ounce drink might cost about half the cost for students at school, who may not even have permission from parents to be drinking the beverages being sold. On top of that, high school kids love making their own (sometimes poor) decisions about their favorite drinks and snacks, and if those choices are available, they will be popular, which can help lead to more overweight young adults.

While the initial allure for an athletic director would be signing an exclusive contract with a vendor, a more sensible choice would be to purchase a vending machine or run a school store and decide as a district what will be stocked. These non-profit, student-run activities provide real-world learning and more oversight.