Arlington Public Schools is maintaining its position as the costliest school district, on a per-student basis, in the D.C. suburbs, according to new data.
The year-over-year increase from 2016-17 also puts Arlington per-student spending at an all-time high, is 6.1 percent above the next highest school system on the list and a whopping 72 percent above the school district that spends the least per student.
The Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE), which annually analyzes the budgets of local school districts to provide as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible, puts Arlington’s per-student spending at $19,340 for the 2017-18 school year, up 2 percent from a year before and above the all-time record of $19,040 recorded in 2014-15.
Next highest, as traditionally has been the case, is the school system in neighboring Falls Church, where the per-student cost of $18,219 was down 1.1 percent from a year before.
Among other school districts: Alexandria will spend $17,099 per student this school year, up 0.5 percent: Montgomery County, $16,030, up 0.3 percent; Fairfax County, $14,767, up 2.3 percent; Prince George’s County, $13,816, down 0.4 percent; Loudoun County, $13,688, up 4.3 percent; Manassas City, $12,846, down 2 percent; Manassas Park City, $11,242, up 3.3 percent; and Prince William County, $11,222, up 2.2 percent.
(The District of Columbia does not provide data for evaluation by the staff from Fairfax County Public Schools, which compiles the annual report.)
The WABE report pegs total Arlington school spending for the current fiscal year at $712.2 million, counting operating and construction funds, debt service, food service, summer school and adult-education programs.
As he does each year, Arlington County Taxpayers Association president Tim Wise has zeroed in on the disparity between Arlington’s per-student spending and that in Fairfax County Public Schools.
If Arlington reduced its per-student spending to Fairfax’s level, the school system would save $117 million, Wise said.
“What are Arlington County taxpayers getting in return for that $117 million?” he asked.
The 2008 recession and the retirement of several incumbent somewhat free-spending School Board members and Superintendent Robert Smith led, for a time, to per-student spending falling below pre-recession levels. But that trend has reversed itself.
County school officials over the years have responded to complaints by saying that the higher per-student costs allow for better employee compensation, smaller class sizes and additional programming for students.
(And it’s not as if high per-student spending is a new phenomenon: The Northern Virginia Sun way back in December 1959 reported that Arlington that year topped all jurisdictions statewide.)
Copies of the 2017-18 WABE report, and previous reports dating back a decade, can be found at www.apsva.us/budget-finance/wabe-guide/.