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The Right Note: Still Spending More Than Our Neighbors

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

According to the Washington Area Boards of Education, Arlington is spending $18,957 per pupil for Fiscal Year 2017. That number went up by $341 over last year. And according to page 31 of the report, Arlington ranks highest in the region, by more than $500 per student.

If Arlington spent only as much per student as Falls Church, the next highest spender, it could save the taxpayers $14.2 million for the year or 2.4%. One local activist pointed out that by lowering our per pupil spending to be even with Fairfax County would lower total costs by $112 million, or 24%.

Lowering spending to Fairfax County levels is neither realistic, nor is it necessarily desirable. It does however provide a valuable data point as does the comparison to Falls Church.

The WABE uses its own formula to calculate the per pupil costs in an attempt to make an apples to apples comparison across the region. Arlington accepts the WABE methodology when reporting its budget to Arlingtonians each year. Who can blame them? It represents a much lower spending level than is actually occurring.

For those of you who like math, here is what Arlington is really spending per student in 2017: $22,032.

That’s the number you get when you divide the total $581.94 million budget by the 26,414 students the budget anticipates. The difference between total cost per student and reported per pupil spending is $3,075 per student, or 16.2%.

Some in Arlington are willing to spend much more on our schools and simply do not care what the topline number actually is. Others think we already spend way too much. Most want a high quality education for our students that gets the best bang for the buck.

So why not report both numbers? If Arlington schools want to be compared to others, then continue to report the per pupil spending that way. But, they should also report the total spending per student cost to give Arlington taxpayers the complete picture of school spending rather than hoping people will not check the math.

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