Struggling Indiana public school districts are buying billboard space, airing radio ads and even sending principals door-to-door in an unusual marketing campaign aimed at persuading parents not to move their children to private schools as the nation's largest voucher program doubles in size.
Unlike voucher programs in other states that are limited to poor families and failing school districts, the Indiana subsidies are open to a much broader range of people, including parents with a household income up to nearly $64,000 for a family of four. The median income for an Indiana family of four was just over $67,000 in 2010, making many of the state's nearly 1 million public school students eligible for vouchers.
Last year, the effect of the new vouchers was limited because the law passed just four months before the start of school, and many parents were still unfamiliar with the program. But this year, more than 8,000 students have already applied for vouchers, and there is room for up to 15,000. The number of participants could grow even more next year, when the ceiling on the number of vouchers is eliminated.
Leaders of poor urban schools, which suffered the most defections last year, are especially worried. A district loses $5,300 to $8,400 for each student who leaves.
After 113 of its students departed for private schools last year, the Evansville Vanderburgh district spent $5,700 to erect two billboards and place ads at bus stops to tout the district's theme of "Bringing Learning to Life."
In Fort Wayne, public schools lost 392 students to vouchers last year, the most in the state. That cost the district more than $2.6 million in state aid and led officials to cut 10 art, music and physical education teaching positions at elementary schools.
School staff members have gone to the homes of students who switched to private schools last year or who dropped out and asked them to come back. The district is touting its magnet schools, teaching methods that include Montessori and Reggio and a performing arts and visual arts school.
How To Improve Schools
There are three sure-fire ways to improve schools.
Eliminate public unions
Indiana's voucher system addresses method number one.
If everyone pulls their kids out of public school, number two would happen by force. Unfortunately, that is not a reasonable expectation.
Note the math in Fort Wayne. The district lost 392 students to vouchers at a cost to the district of $2.6 million in state aid. The district responded by cutting 10 positions.
Is the cost of a teacher plus benefits really $260,000?
Regardless, union rules are based on seniority, not merit, and it is impossible to get rid of poor teachers, even sexual predators, if they have been in the system long enough.
Thus, an unfortunate side effect of Indiana's voucher system is the distinct possibility that poor inner-city schools may get stuck with the worst teachers and the worst students whose parents cannot afford the extra cost of private education.
Should that happen, the voucher system might get the blame when the real problem is public unions.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com