The first year of school vouchers in Indiana is seeing some major shifts in certain school districts. The loss of students means the loss of funds.
Statewide, nearly 3,800 students have used vouchers under the new state program to help parents pay to send their children to a private school.
Students already in private schools last year don't qualify for vouchers, and there is a means test to ensure that state aid goes to parents who can't afford private school on their own.
According to preliminary figures, the Gary and Hammond public school systems each lost more than 100 students as a result, and 85 vouchers were used by East Chicago students. Much smaller numbers were used in Portage Township and the Duneland School Corp. area.
The right response by public school officials is to become more competitive, rather than defensive, and improve the quality of education enough to lure students back.
Hammond administrators constantly review the curriculum, said Theresa Mayerik, chief administrator for academic services with the School City of Hammond. The district also has had considerable interest in its Academy for Performing Arts, but it doesn't accept students outside the district. If there's enough demand, perhaps it's time for the school district to increase the opportunities.
Gary Teachers Union President Carlos Tolliver said the union is working with school officials to "retool teachers" so they get the skills they need to be effective in today's education marketplace.
Schools are accustomed to competing in athletic endeavors and some hold academic competitions with other schools as well. Now, because of expanded school choice options, those schools must compete for enrollment. School administrators and faculty in traditional public schools now must recognize that they can't behave like a monopoly.
If a school is losing students, the administrators and faculty must determine why and take steps to become more competitive.
Competition is good. It sharpens skills and inspires the entire team. In the end, this expansion of school choice and the competition it engenders should help improve the quality of education in all schools.