Here in Georgia, students have access to the HOPE Scholarship Program. Basically (and some of the details are set to change), if a student graduates from high school with a B average, s/he can attend a University System of Georgia (USG) institution for free so long as s/he maintains a B average. What the state and the USG college have learned is that there is a lot of coercive power tied up in the program--and most of that has been deleterious and not beneficial. There is a lot of pressure on teachers and professors to inflate grades to keep students' eligible. I can tell you that I personally feel a lot of ambivalence when a student comes to my office hours to tell me, "I need to get an A in your class or I'll lose HOPE!" (My canned response is usually something along the lines of "Well, if you knew it was such a big deal, why didn't you work harder or come to see me earlier in the semester?")
It occurred to me today, though, that the State of Georgia is missing an opportunity to do more with this wonderful power. Right now, virtually all accredited high schools in the state, along with some home school programs, are HOPE-eligible, but what if they weren't? What if only public high schools were HOPE-eligible? This would give an incentive to parents to send their kids to public instead of private schools. Parents would inevitably complain that the public schools are not as good as the private schools in their area, and here is where the state wins: if you encourage those with the most political clout and know-how (i.e. the wealthy and white) to send their kids to public schools, you'll be surprised at how quickly those schools will change for the better, not because their kids are somehow better but because the parents will fight for the resources to be in place at those public school to allow them to succeed. In part, this was the intention of the desegregation busing programs of the 1970s and 1980s. Busing failed because those parents who were able--ironically, the very parents who were best equipped to improve the schools--were allowed to simply pull their kids out and put them into private schools or to move them out to the suburbs.
While we're at it, the state might as well tie some things to the back end as well. Why not require HOPE graduates to work in-state for a year or two to reduce brain drain?
Admittedly, most of this would be politically difficult, if not impossible. Just an idea.