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For Schools, a High-Stakes Survey on Area Children

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), speaking at Washington-Lee High last week, urged households to complete a survey used to calculate school funding.
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), speaking at Washington-Lee High last week, urged households to complete a survey used to calculate school funding. (By Mark Berman -- The Washington Post)
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By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

School officials in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties are teaming up to urge all households to complete a state-required form that will help determine how much money goes to local school systems.

The messages were clear at a news conference last week at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County: Responding to the once-every-three-years census is vital, easy and confidential.

"Good schools cost money," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). "This determines what Northern Virginia's allocation is for its school system. We're talking about approximately $1 billion, so this is very, very important."

If people with school-age children don't respond, Moran added, "we're going to have less money for the same number of people."

Authorities also are trying to assuage fears that the forms used to count everyone from age 5 to 19 will be used to learn whether someone is an illegal immigrant.

"We were afraid that some of the immigrants might be fearful," said Jim Carroll, special projects coordinator for Arlington Public Schools. "We want to assure those folks that are immigrants that there is no fear with doing this."

The results of the census, which is not part of the U.S. Census, are not shared with the federal government.

Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, said all households should respond to the census, including those without children or those in which children are enrolled in private schools or home-school.

If all Arlington households do not respond, said County Board member Mary H. Hynes (D), county schools won't get the money they are due. "The census is all about getting our fair share of money we've already paid" in state taxes, she added.

Ed Fendley, chairman of the Arlington School Board, agreed. "There's no more fundamental service than educating our kids. The state funding is critical. It's vital we get our share of the state resources."

Of the money collected through the 5 percent state sales and use tax, Virginia returns 1.125 percent to localities to support public education, Pyle said. That brought in about $1.1 billion statewide for the current fiscal year, he said. Schools can use the money for maintenance, operations, capital projects and debt service.

The most recent census, in 2005, counted 1,484,948 school-age children and young adults throughout the state. Arlington County counted 21,857 school-age children; Fairfax County, 200,902; Loudoun, 59,566; and Alexandria, 13,871.

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