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Arlington Public Schools – Expensive and Getting More So

On May 2, I growled when I saw the cost per pupil numbers for Virginia’s school districts for the 2003-2004 school-year (SY). The Virginia Department of Education now has per pupil spending numbers posted for the 2004-2005 SY. Never fear -- Arlington is still the most expensive school district in Virginia with per pupil spending of $16,964 (operating fund only).

For the following analysis, however, I compared the change in per pupil spending of the six districts in Northern Virginia over five years, i.e., from SY 1999-2000 to SY 2004-2005 (Table 15 in the state superintendent’s annual report) and relative to that year’s state average. For example, for the earlier SY, Arlington spent an average of $11,697 per pupil, which was 67.5% above the state average of $6,985. By SY 2004-2005, however, Arlington’s spending per pupil was $16,964, or 84.6% above the state average of $9,202. For the six Northern Virginia school districts, the comparable numbers are:

School District -- 1999-2000/2004-2005
Alexandria -- 53.5/73.5
Arlington -- 67.5/84.6
Fairfax -- 23.9/22.3
Falls Church -- 53.3/67.0
Loudoun – 2.2/22.2
Prince William -- <2.6>/<2/3>

Loudoun can claim that much of its increased spending was due to their fast growth. Interestingly, Fairfax and Prince William school officials were able to keep per pupil spending under control. Arlington taxpayers, however, may want to ask the School Board why it wasn’t able to maintain per pupil spending steady at 67.5% above the state average, or even reduce it somewhat. Consider that if Arlington’s per pupil spending had remained at 67.5% above the state average, the school budget for that last year could have been reduced by $27.6 million, or about a 5-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate. For the average residential homeowner that would have equated to a reduction of close to $200 in their real estate tax bill.