SOUTHERN INDIANA – $8,729,600.
That’s the amount of money Greater Clark County Schools lost due to students attending other public school districts or participating in the private school voucher program this fall.
A newly released school transfer report from the Indiana Department of Education outlines the number of students living within a particular school district’s boundaries and where that student ended up choosing to attend school for the fall of 2019.
Clarksville Community Schools was the only local school district that showed a net gain, with an additional eight students. GCCS had a net loss of 1,408 students, while New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. showed a net loss of 166 and West Clark Community Schools had a net loss of 435.
When schools are funded per pupil at an average of $6,200 per student, the lost funds add up, according to GCCS Superintendent Mark Laughner.
“It’s something we’re really looking hard at. We feel like we have some strategies that can help [increase student retention and recruitment],” Laughner said. “We need to market what we do well in this district. There are a lot of great things going on in this district and we need to market that.”
Of those resident students GCCS lost, 320 went to Clarksville Community Schools. Other public school options, such as charter and online schools, claimed 477 students. A total of 309 took advantage of the state-funded private school voucher program, which allows parents making up to $92,870 for a family of four to receive scholarships to offset tuition costs at participating private schools.
“That creates a lot of challenges for public schools, especially with vouchers. They’re taking money away from public schools and sending it to private schools, which, honestly, I’m not a fan of,” Laughner said. “It’s funding that used to go to public education that is now not. In some areas, like us, when you have significant numbers enrollment wise, you lose pretty significant dollars.”
Superintendent Tina Bennett, with Clarksville Community Schools, said she is in favor of school choice.
“I think there are certain schools that are a better fit for certain students,” Bennett said.
NAFC Superintendent Brad Snyder, though, agreed with Laughner.
“People don’t realize the magnitude of dollars flowing to charters, the magnitude of dollars flowing to online [schools] and the magnitude of dollars flowing to vouchers. It’s kind of the new normal,” Snyder said. “I think it hurts [traditional public schools]. Everybody has an opinion on that. I think there is a place for charter and there is a place for online [schools], but I think our state’s operating definition is too wide … There’s a place for that, but I think it needs to be narrowed down. I think the public schools can serve a lot of those kids better than what they’re getting.”
Snyder said the voucher program has grown and changed from what public schools were initially told.
“In the beginning, we were told those would go to low-income households and that is not what is happening,” Snyder said. “I think the program is OK. The state ought to consider making those kind of choices to low-income families only. Most people think that that is for impoverished households. But it’s not.”
A total of 818 students are taking advantage of vouchers in Clark and Floyd counties, which, when accounting for the average $6,200 per student, adds up to $5,071,600 the public school districts missed if those students had attended their schools.
Snyder said if that income limit were lowered, he believes NAFC would become a net gain when it comes to student population, which would increase the district’s budget.
A total of 1,210 students in Clark and Floyd counties chose to attend charter, online or other public schools not part of a district, such as the Indiana School for the Deaf, which adds up to $7,502,000.
FINDING THE REASONS, MAKING CHANGES
Bennett said Clarksville surveyed students who lived outside the district, but chose to go to Clarksville Community Schools. She said the responses were overwhelmingly that those students preferred the smaller school setting.
Laughner said he feels many students are leaving Greater Clark due to that same reason, particularly in the Salem Noble Road area, and going to smaller neighboring schools. He said most leave either after elementary or after middle school.
“We want to survey our parents at the end of fifth grade and at the end of eighth grade, to ask our parents if they intend to keep their kids in Greater Clark schools,” Laughner said.
He said if they say no, he hopes to offer them an alternative and even busing, by having special drop-off locations.
“That’s the one thing we have in this district. We have everything you can need,” Laughner said. “We have a large high school. We have a medium-sized high school and we have a small high school. We have it all.”
He is hoping that new strategy will help retain students, lowering the number of students lost to other districts.
Bennett said she feels good about the report, adding that 29% of the district’s student population are not local residents, but are choosing to attend Clarksville.
“We have really good schools in Southern Indiana, so our students have really good choices,” Bennett said. “At the end of the day, we’ve had students leaving and students coming and it was kind of a wash for us.”
West Clark Superintendent Clemen Perez-LLoyd was unavailable for comment by press time.