Where should my child attend school? What are my choices?" These are familiar questions for parents and students as they search for a quality pre-K to 12 education experience. Education can be obtained through a variety of options: public, private, specialized, charter, home school, voucher and online education formats.

Within the framework of these choices, the trend is toward "special branding, " focusing to attract parents and students into a unique experience. Over the past decade, public school districts have created specialty schools to address student needs, entice students to remain in a district school, help students to graduate, and address accountability concerns from outside forces.

This trend toward choice and competitiveness in pre-K to 12 education has led to facilities planning and design efforts that instill quality, uniqueness and excellence in schools. Ultimately, the result can lead to great opportunities for students, and if student enrollment continues to increase, a multitude of options may be easily sustainable.

Enrollment and Demographics

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, school-age national enrollment will continue to rise. But that doesn’t apply to every region of the nation. The Center for Public Education reports enrollments from 2000 to 2008 increased in 13 states and decreased in 37 states (with significant decreases in 16 states). School-age population is becoming more diverse; these dynamics can cause repositioning and student movement.

Public-education state aid has decreased; many school districts are scrambling to close funding gaps. To remain financially viable, places of education are recreating and rebranding themselves to increase visibility, differentiation, uniqueness and flexibility, setting themselves apart from the competition to attract students.

Public Challenges and Opportunities

To add to the variable, public charter schools have been established that offer curriculum models that may be different from school district offerings. Charter schools have themes that cover a wide range: classical education, performing arts, entrepreneurship, language immersion, cyber technology education and others.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, charter school enrollment has grown by more than 600 percent since 1999, with the largest increases in urban areas. Having a student in a traditional public school switch to a charter school may cause a school district to lose the funding attached to that student and drain the district of the resources need to maintain high-quality programs.