Last week, a lawsuit brought by public school parents in Nashville, Tenn., against an area charter school network received class-action status.
According to News Channel 5, the lawsuit accuses RePublic Schools Nashville of spamming local parents with text messages aimed at siphoning students from Nashville Metro Public Schools to the company’s for-profit charter school network.
In total, close to 4,000 parents received the texts. Attorneys representing aggrieved parents are now seeking $1,500 in damages for each message.
It remains to be seen whether the parents will win their legal battle. Either way, the story shines a light on a reality that many public leaders suddenly face: Competition from charter schools, private vouchers, and other alternatives is real. And many of these schools are investing in marketing to attract families.
Joel Gagne is president of Allerton Hill Consulting, a marketing firm that contracts with public schools. His take: Public schools need to step up their game if they want to compete with other providers. “K12 leaders have to adopt the mentality that they are competing for these students. And they must understand that this is no longer a fair fight.”
Every trick in the book
A quick Google search for “charter school marketing” produces dozens of how-tos and handbooks for charter and private schools looking to market their services to students.
In a new guide on school market share and competition released by K12 Insight (K12 Insight produces TrustED), Gagne explains the extent to which charter schools in one Ohio community were willing to go to win market share:
“They were sending these cards statewide. These guys are on television. They have Jack Hanna—the famous zoo guy—in their TV ads. They’re actively marketing for students, not just on television and in print, but through social media. They’re selling the promise of technology: Sign up for our charter school, and you can get an iPad or a free laptop.”
In one case, he says, a charter school provider gave out free ice cream to students who signed up for their schools.
Some private schools that accept vouchers are taking a similar approach.
Sewickley Academy, Pittsburgh’s oldest private school, uses inbound marketing, social media, blog posts, and gated content resources to attract new students, according to Emily Cretella of Cursive Content Marketing.
Get K12 Insight’s School Leader’s Definitive Guide to Capturing Market Share
School marketing works
Cretella says the Academy saw an increase in web traffic and a 30-percent jump in enrollment as a result of concentrated marketing campaigns.
Charter schools, too, have seen a spike in enrollment—a 62-percent nationwide increase from 2011 to 2016, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
The appearance of competition doesn’t mean that public schools necessarily need to invest in advertising or put up billboards to keep families from leaving. But it does mean they need to do more to demonstrate their value—and to effectively nurture the relationships they have with students and families.
Does your school or district have a program in place to market itself to families? What steps are you taking to keep students enrolled and engaged? Tell us in the comments.