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  • Erica Peterson

Parents vote with their feet

Shoes and legs of people wearing backpacks walking away in a crosswalk.

The concept of school choice isn’t something usually addressed in student attendance initiatives, but statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate they should.

Federal enrollment data released last month details a 3% drop nationwide in public school enrollment. While 3% may not sounds like much, that’s roughly 1.5 million students nationwide.

No longer a luxury but rather a necessity, all schools must implement communications strategies that sell their schools.

National pollster’s PDK’s annual public education poll, released in the fall of 2020, indicated significant parent support for school vouchers. Their survey data shows that 56% of parents would support a school voucher program that enables them to take tax money for public schools to pay for private schools—and that’s pre-pandemic—with students having left the public school system in the 2020-2021 school year—the data support that those sentiments are likely much higher now. Additionally, “(t)his year’s poll also measured views on another 'school choice' option, establishing or adding local charter schools. Four in 10 adults support this even if it means reducing the amount of funds available for traditional public schools, as do 45% of parents. That’s up from 28% support among all adults in a similar question in 2005.”

School choice proponents have been racking up wins, the 74 writes, “According to the American Federation for Children, five states created new private-school choice programs this year, while eight jurisdictions expanded existing programs, and another two did both. Standouts include major new education savings account (ESA) programs in West Virginia and New Hampshire; major expansions and improvements to Florida’s ESA and tax credit scholarship programs; the enactment of Iowa’s first real charter school bill; and huge wins in Ohio on the voucher, ESA and charter fronts, including direct, formula-driven funding for choice programs.”

No longer a luxury but rather a necessity, all schools must implement communications strategies that sell their schools. Even perfunctory communications like annual School Accountability Report Cards should be viewed as tools to showcase unique school programs and successes. Communicating the positive benefits to attending local public schools is an imperative. As districts gear up for Attendance Awareness Month, I issue two challenges:

  1. First, view your attendance improvement strategies as part of your districtwide strategic plan, and

  2. Second, focus on how you communicate to your families and not just what you communicate.

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