Private school vouchers in Indiana are forcing schools to change how they treat families. An AP article on the program details the response of school districts across the state to the newfound competition with private schools.
Some, like the Fort Wayne School District, are choosing to have principals go door to door in neighborhoods to entice students to come to school, explaining that schools have increased test scores and graduation rates. Others, like the Evansville Vanderburg School District, are erecting billboards to try and make their schools more appealing.
The article is explicit:
“School officials worry about the potential loss of thousands of students, especially those from the middle class, and the state money that comes with them.”
Moving forward, one of the most interesting and important trends to watch will be how schools choose to respond to this competition. Remember, this is uncharted territory for many of these system leaders, as most schools and districts have been well insulated from competitive pressures. It may have some fits and starts.
According to the story, the Fort Wayne School District has lost so much revenue from students leaving for the voucher program that it had to “cut ten art, music, and physical education teaching positions at elementary schools.” This is one strategy to deal with a leaner budget, but is unlikely to keep the middle class families that districts are trying desperately to hold on to. Perhaps shifting more instruction to technology or developing more innovative staffing patterns would be a better way to cope with austere times.
Schools are going to have to get smarter about how they allocate their limited resources in order to stay competitive in the market. Public schools that don’t adapt will continue to feel the squeeze from students leaving for greener pastures. And I disagree with the teacher quoted in the story. Public schools are not “fighting a fight we shouldn’t have to,” they are fighting the exact fight that they should have to; to prove every day that they are working to deliver the highest quality education to the students trusted to their care.