School choice proponents argue that when parents can choose alternative schools, traditional public schools will have to improve. The latest evidence from Indiana seems to support the idea that public schools feel a need to compete.
Indiana Public Media reports that public schools in the state have started to advertise in their communities.
One district hired a communications director because of their private-sector marketing background. Another paid an ad agency more than $160,000 for a marketing campaign that encourages out-of-district families to drive their students into the district. Although the cost was roughly four teachers' salaries, it brought in enough students to cover roughly ten teachers' salaries.
Fort Wayne Community Schools spent $10,000 for 15 billboards this summer. Two new students are all it would take to cover the marketing costs.
The increase in marketing was caused by several school choice changes in the state. Traditional public schools now have to compete with public charter schools and state vouchers that students can use for private school tuition. A legal change also lets students cross public school district borders more easily. At the same time, schools are finding enrollment levels to be more important than ever after changes in the state school funding formula.
In addition to traditional marketing, some districts are sending representatives out into the public to meet with families. It's not just about poaching students from other schools. Some of the efforts focus on getting homeschooled kids back into public schools.
Although marketing alone doesn't mean schools will improve, it does suggest that public schools are responding to the infusion of competition in their districts. And that extra competition can only help peformance.
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.