‘Every student matters’: District analyzes data on where transfer students are going to school

Nearly 200 students living in Brown County chose to attend school elsewhere last semester.

Brown County Schools Superintendent Laura Hammack wants those students back home.

The fall 2017-18 Public Corporation Transfer Report, released this month by the Indiana Department of Education, shows 199 students attending public and private schools in surrounding counties or online.

Of those, 96 attend school in the Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson United School District.

“This data has confirmed that we do have a fairly, I would say, large number of students, 199, that have legal settlement here in Brown County but are choosing another option,” Hammack said.

The state pays a school district “tuition support” for each student it educates. That money goes into a district’s general fund, which pays the salaries of teachers and staff. Brown County Schools recently cut nearly $1 million from that budget due to declining enrollment.

“You take 199 students and you multiply that by the $5,000, that would be tuition support. That’s our general fund problem right there,” Hammack said.

This is the first time Brown County or any other districts have known where their students are going if they aren’t staying in their local public school district. The data was released as a result of Senate Bill 30, which took effect in July. It was authored by Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, after he spoke with Hammack at the Brown County 4-H Fair about enrollment.

The new law requires the IDOE to provide all school corporations with specific data about students who transfer to charter schools, voucher-receiving private schools or other public schools each spring and fall semester.

The data does not include any personally identifiable information. It is posted on the IDOE website.

“Having this information will help our public schools better understand why families are exercising their educational choice options,” Koch said in a news release Jan. 16. “By knowing where they are going, our public schools will have a better idea of why some students are leaving and can take steps to address real or perceived shortcomings.”

Hammack said her “competitive side” is going to come out as the district takes steps to bring those families back.

“While I certainly respect any parents’ right to choose where their student attends, I would love for parents to reconsider us as their option, because I believe we have extraordinary things to offer boys and girls. I want to better understand why these choices have been made so we can better meet the needs that weren’t being met when another choice was made.”

The district’s leadership team will meet this week to review the data and begin to discuss possible reasons why other options are being picked over Brown County Schools, “then that bigger question: What do we need to do in order to respond?” Hammack said.

The data

Twenty-six students who live in Brown County attend faith-based schools using Indiana Choice Scholarships.

The scholarships, funded by public money, allow students to attend private schools or public charter schools which they otherwise might not be able to afford.

“For families where that is happening, I completely understand,” Hammack said. But if a family is making a decision to transfer that’s not based on faith, “then what are we maybe not offering, or what has happened that has made it such that a family would choose a public option?” she asked.

Some reasons could be geographical. For families living in the northern part of the county, driving students to a school in the Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson United School District, like Indian Creek, may be easier than busing or driving them to Helmsburg or Sprunica elementaries or Brown County High School.

Of the 96 students who attend a school in Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson, two are there because of foster placement or a state mandate. The other 94 are there because of parental choice, according to the report.

Thirty students who live in Brown County attend school in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Monroe County Community School Corp. has nine Brown County students.

Twenty-three local students attend public charter schools, most of them online.

Some students also are transferring into Brown County Schools who don’t live in the county. Last semester, 33 students’ families chose to send them here, which the district is celebrating, Hammack said.

The plan

District leaders are continuing to look for ways to market what’s happening in Brown County Schools.

“We’ve been extraordinarily humble for way too long, and we need to really sell what we have to offer and win back the hearts of these families for Brown County,” Hammack said.

She said one family recently decided to return to Van Buren Elementary School after hearing about what was happening in the building under new principal Gavin Steele.

“When we’re talking about the numbers that we’re talking about, one or two or three kids makes a huge difference for us. We are on a campaign that every student matters. When we can win back one, that’s a huge win for us,” she said.

Brown County Schools already has one billboard on State Road 135 North at the Brown-Morgan county line that will get a “refresh,” Hammack said.

The district’s technology department is also working on a promotional video that will be shared on social media.

They’re also looking into advertising in local movie theaters. “It’s not cheap, but rolling these promos before movies is a sincere possibility for us. We’re looking at very out-of-the-box ways,” she said.

“We’re going to get those kids back.”

At a glance

Families who live in Brown County have decided to transfer the following number of students from Brown County Schools to other public schools in surrounding counties:

94 students attend Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson United School District

30 students attend Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation

9 students attend Monroe County Community School Corporation

4 students attend Franklin Community School Corporation

4 students attend Greenwood Community School Corporation

2 students attend Center Grove Community School Corporation

1 student attends Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corporation

1 student attends Brownstown Central Community School Corporation

1 student attends Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation

1 student attends Southwestern Consolidated School District of Shelby County

3 students attend school in either Indianapolis Public Schools or Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson United School District due to a state mandate or foster placement

The following number of students attend charter schools over Brown County Schools:

13 students attend Indiana Connections Academy (online)

3 students attend Indiana Virtual School (online)

3 students attend Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter School (online)

2 students attend Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy (online)

1 student attends Hoosier Academy in Indianapolis

1 student attends Insight School of Indiana (online)

The following number of students are using Choice scholarships to attend private, faith-based schools:

11 students attend Tabernacle Christian School

3 students attend Columbus Christian School Inc.

3 students at Saints Francis & Clare of Assisi Roman Catholic Church and School

2 students attend St. John Lutheran School

2 students attend St. Peter’s Lutheran School

2 students attend St. Bartholomew School

1 student attends St. Charles Borromeo School

1 student attends Lutheran High School

1 student attends Sandy Creek Christian Academy

SOURCE: Indiana Department of Education

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.