The following letter to the editor was submitted by Mary Hynes and Noah Simon. Mary is Vice Chair of the Arlington County Board and a former School Board member. Noah is an Arlington County School Board Member. This letter represents their individual views.
Arlington residents value education. We are, after all, a community where 70% of residents hold bachelor degrees and over 25% hold advanced degrees. We see the commitment to education daily – in engaged parents, committed teachers, active PTA’s, and strong business partnerships. That commitment has been demonstrated for more than three decades by voter support for upgraded and expanded schools.
Still, our community now faces school enrollment levels that we have not seen for nearly 50 years in Arlington. People want to live in Arlington because of our high quality schools and to entrust their children’s education to our dedicated school professionals.
We know that Arlington supports education because of the way our tax dollars are spent. As has been true for decades, both the County’s and the Arlington Public Schools’ FY15 budgets reflect Arlington’s sustained commitment to public education and academic excellence. And the School Board maintained the community’s vision of a high quality education for all students while aligning community priorities with fiscal prudence.
In terms of dollars invested in education, the APS budget totals $539.4 million, an increase of 3.1 percent. It includes a County transfer of $432.2 million as well as one time payments that provide an even higher percentage increase. The increases address the growing enrollment trend that shows no sign of slowing in the next several years.
This schools investment represents approximately 47% of Arlington County’s locally generated revenue. We spend more on schools than on any other community priority. We invest far more per pupil – approximately $19,200 — than other jurisdictions in our region, largely a product of low class size and high quality teachers. Considering that only 13 percent of Arlington households have school-age children, the community’s commitment to education is substantial.
What do Arlington students and residents get for this education investment? Successful students, great schools, expanded adult education opportunities, high graduation rates, strong higher education attainment rates, more efforts to eliminate achievement gaps, and a highly ranked education system that attracts quality businesses and employers.
Here are a few highlights from the budget:
- A reaffirmed countywide commitment to current low class sizes;
- Additional County transfer funding to address enrollment growth;
- Full funding for all available Pre-Kindergarten slots in recognition that early childhood education is critical to student success — Arlington remains the only Northern Virginia county that uses all available state funding for Pre-K;
- Funding to prepare students to meet the demands of a global marketplace by eliminating early-Wednesday release at three schools and enabling those schools to implement the Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) Program;
- A strong commitment to students with special needs;
- Numerous opportunities for Advanced Placement courses, athletic participation and arts education;
- A 2 percent salary increase and $500 one-time bonus payment for employees; and
- Opportunities for adult English language learners to earn their high school diploma and enhance their future career opportunities.
Our community knows that education is a key contributor to our economic growth and to the success of future generations. That is why Arlington is so committed to having excellent schools.
As the needs of the school system change over time, we remain committed to addressing those needs. Today, enrollment growth is one of the most pressing challenges we face. That is why the County Board and School Board are working together to come up with solutions and resources – including a look at how we can take a fresh look at how best to structure a revenue sharing agreement to manage taxpayer funds efficiently and plan effectively to keep our schools strong.
With the passage of the County and Schools budgets, attention now shifts to the Capital Improvement Planning (CIP) process. In the coming weeks, the Schools capital plan will request funding to meet enrollment needs. Getting more seats into the pipeline – at all levels – is a priority that both Boards are committed to meeting.
It will take all of us — parents, educators, civic associations, School Board and County Board colleagues – the entire community – to solve the challenge of school capacity in a timely and responsible manner. Arlington remains committed to providing the best in public schools – and we are committed to keeping it that way by growing our economy, investing for the future, and aligning community priorities with fiscal responsibility.