The latest evidence that school districts are increasingly acting like commercial businesses comes from the two urban districts in the Tampa Bay area.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that, “Increased competition for students, declining enrollment in the middle grades, and a need to offer more attractive options to families is leading Pinellas County Schools to open new magnet programs at four middle schools next fall.”
According to Bill Lawrence, the district’s director of student demographics, assignment and school capacity, “It’s important in this day and age, with competition in public education, that we have to do this. Some of our children are choosing other options, so it’s important we do it.” And Amie Hornbaker, the district’s new communications specialist, said, “We try not to say we’re selling (to parents), but essentially, we are.”
This concern with market share is a logical response to the expanding array of schooling options now available to families, including low-income families. But I’m uncomfortable with school districts becoming businesses in a competitive market place.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, or even hypocritical, coming from the president of the country’s largest private school choice organization.
I believe public education should operate as a well-regulated market. Educators should be empowered to own and manage schools and all parents – not just the affluent – should be empowered to match their children with the schools that best meet their needs. And I’m pleased many district school leaders are increasingly seeing families, and not their bureaucracies, as their primary customers. But if school districts become competitors in a market-driven public education system, who is going to objectively regulate this system?
Good regulatory oversight is a necessary component of an effective school choice system, but that’s not possible if the primary regulator is focused on maximizing its market share. And that’s what is increasingly happening in public education today. A good example is how Florida school districts are treating charter schools. Continue Reading →