St. Paul school district spending big to recruit students

A new two-year, $300,000 marketing campaign is underway by the St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) district to reverse declining enrollment, reported the Pioneer Press.

Families have been steadily leaving St. Paul Public Schools for the last decade, “largely due to competition from charter schools, as well as increased homeschooling and students picking private schools or neighboring districts through open enrollment.”

The goal over the next 11 months is to “stabilize” enrollment by losing no more than 1.5 percent of current enrollment; this fall, a preliminary count has them down 3.7 percent from last year.

The district has started placing billboards around St. Paul to advertise its “school choice fair,” reported the Pioneer Press, which is pitched as helping families “discover an SPPS school you’ll love” by learning more about the district’s schools, programs and services.

In addition to billboards (the next set will focus on the district’s Feb. 3 priority enrollment deadline), SPPS is running Facebook ads and ads in local media outlets but will give most of the marketing campaign dollars to individual schools with low enrollment to use on recruiting efforts, continued the Pioneer Press.

The marketing campaign is being paid for from the district’s general fund.

But why are families leaving?

“Education is a competitive market space, and parents say that with their feet if we aren’t able to offer them what they need or want with the quality of programming,” told Jackie Turner, chief of administration and operations, to the Pioneer Press.

This is the kicker. Enrollment is declining because families are choosing other learning environments for a reason.

Could it be because nearly 75 percent of students districtwide can’t do grade-level math? Or that over 65 percent of students districtwide aren’t proficient in reading? What about safety concerns? And okay, the four-year graduation rate in 2021 was 76 percent, but what does that say if not even half of that class as 10th graders were reading at grade level? What about the fact that over 81 percent of 11th graders in spring 2022 — this school year’s graduating class — couldn’t do math at grade level?

St. Paul Public Schools district will not convince families that its schools should be trusted with their most precious asset — their children — if these are the results.