Goshen News, Goshen, IN

October 15, 2012

Local public schools compete for students


GOSHEN — Marketing ads from your local supermarket? Sure. Marketing ads from the car dealership down the street? Why not? Marketing ads from your local school district? You might be surprised.

In the past, transferring students between public school districts was allowed in Indiana, but it was rare due to the cost involved. To transfer a student to a different district, parents were required to pay hefty tuition costs due to the fact that the state did not provide funding support for transfer students.

Then, in 2010, everything changed.

Beginning at the start of the 2010-11 school year, the state changed its transfer rules to no longer require public school districts to charge families to accept transfer students, essentially allowing students to cross district borders with very little effort.

The result? Something many school corporations had never had to deal with in the past: competition from other school districts.

Diane Woodworth, superintendent of Goshen Community Schools, is one of several superintendents in the Elkhart County area currently dealing with the growing popularity of student transfers.

“Last year we had 63 students that transferred here, and this year for 2012-13 we have 72,” Woodworth said. “In 2010-11 we only had 19, so I think as parents and families are kind of realizing this is available, in talking with other superintendents in the area, I think there is more of this going on these days.”

Other corporations see spikes

According to Jane Allen, superintendent of Middlebury Community Schools, the lessening of transfer restrictions among public school districts in Indiana most likely began with pressure from the public, especially those in the urban distracts from students who wanted to attend schools in other districts.

Since that initial push, the trend has continued to grow steadily across the state, with more and more school corporations choosing to jump on board.

“This is the third or fourth year that we’ve done it,” Allen said. “In that first year we really didn’t have that many because the students still had to pay to come here. But the second and third year for sure we had quite a few actually. Last year we were around 166 transfer students, and this year we were around 180. So it’s definitely growing.”

Over at Fairfield Community Schools, assistant superintendent Steve Thalheimer was reporting a similar jump in transfer students since the state changed its policies in 2010.

“This year when I ran our ADM (Average Daily Membership) student report and submitted it to the state, we had 76 students taking advantage of cash transfers into the district,” Thalheimer said. “In 2010 we had 50 students do that, and in 2008, before the law was changed, we only had 19 students take advantage at that point.”

In discussing the reasons behind why parents and students have chosen to go the transfer rout, Allen said the reasons can be as individual as the students themselves.

“In a lot of cases it was the high school curriculum,” Allen said. “For example, we offer Chinese, the International Baccalaureate diploma, etc. And when the economy tanked, we had a lot of people that had students in private schools who decided they needed to put them in a different setting because of tuition costs.”

Why change?

In addition to curriculum draws, Woodworth also noted a growing number of parents requesting transfers so their children can attend school in the district where they work, or where they have better access to childcare.

“Particularly with our elementary students, maybe they have grandparents who live here who baby-sit them after school, or maybe if the parents work in Goshen they’d rather have their children go to school where they work,” Woodworth said. “So I would say we’ve seen a real variety of reasons.”

While the removal of transfer tuition costs is good news for students wishing to take advantage of the service, local superintendents for the most part are reporting mixed feelings on the subject, particularly when it comes to the relatively new phenomena of school marketing.

“One negative thing we have found is that it is creating an atmosphere of competition between school corporations, where some corporations feel they need to begin advertising to attract students from other districts,” Woodworth said. “I guess for my part, I would like to think of us as working together to improve education, not competing.”

And of course with new advertising comes new cost, something Allen said can be a tough sell at a time when school budgets are about as tight as they’ve ever been.

“This is an area of funding that we haven’t really had to worry about before,” Allen said. “In fact, when corporations had to cut their budgets, those were the things that we did cut, glossy brochures and newsletters and things like that. But now I don’t think we can, so those are going to have to be some things that we’ll investigate to see if it’s worth the cost.”