Competing with Vouchers, Indiana Public Schools Step Up Marketing Efforts

As I told you a couple months ago, the nation’s largest voucher program — enacted by Indiana in 2011 — is growing quickly in both popularity and promise.

In the Hoosier State, more than 8,000 students from low- and middle-income families are taking advantage of the private option provided by the new choice scholarships. And as Associated Press writer Tom Coyne points out, public education leaders not only are taking notice of the phenomenon, many also are taking action to try to woo families to stay:

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.

Now look. It’s not the very first time that a parental choice program has pushed traditional public schools out of their comfort zones to compete for students. But at this rate, the scale of what’s going on in Indiana may quickly become unprecedented. And you know what? I take it as a good, healthy sign. The more schools and educators are responding to the demands of informed parent power, the better.

Besides, it’s a nice thing not to be taken for granted. So if Evansville school leaders can budget a modest amount to advertise on billboards and bus stops, more power to them. And if Fort Wayne principals are going door-to-door to make their case to families, while the district runs radio ads as part of a local marketing blitz, that’s certainly their prerogative. Not to mention it might be a good idea, too.

Even better would be to see substantive change behind the marketing. To the extent competition impels Indiana public schools seek and achieve the freedom to innovate and excel — and ultimately to improve, as Florida’s tax credit scholarship program has been shown to do — Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program would become that much more of a success. And not just a success, but one of the key blueprints for other states to follow.