This story has been updated.
Arlington Public Schools will outspend its counterparts in the Washington suburbs by at least $1,500 per student this year, with per-student spending above $19,000, and Prince William County schools have the largest class sizes in the region.
Those are two of the findings in a recently released report that compared 11 area school systems in Maryland and Virginia, examining everything from test scores to teacher pay. The report, from the Washington Area Boards of Education, is based on data collected from surveys of school officials. It offers a glimpse into how school systems measure up when it comes to finances and performance.
This school year’s guide includes 11 school districts in the Washington D.C. suburbs, but it does not include D.C. Public Schools. Fairfax County Public Schools has historically taken the lead in assembling the report. Alice Wigington, a budget coordinator who compiled the data for the most recent report, said DCPS has not provided data for the survey since the late 1990s. As a result, officials have in recent years stopped inviting them to participate.
Here’s a look at some of the report’s findings:
Arlington regularly tops this list. Asked about the distinction, officials attributed it to the high number of “choice” schools the division offers, specialty schools that parents can select for their children. They take more resources than normal schools, said Deirdra McLaughlin, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and management.
She also said the combination of Arlington’s small class sizes — the county has the second-smallest high school class sizes in the region — with high teacher pay contributes to the ranking.
But she added that the school district is not free of financial struggles; it is grappling with the same problems as its neighbors, with enrollment growing faster than budgets.
“We’re seeing huge student enrollment growth,” McLaughlin said. “That puts a lot of pressure on our budget.”
In the past decade, Prince William County has struggled to keep down class size as enrollment has boomed. At the high school level, for example, class size has ballooned from 21.1 students per teacher in 2005 to 30.1 students today. The county has the largest class sizes in the Washington area. School officials estimate it will cost $15 million to reduce class size by one student per grade level, and the board of supervisors has signaled it could cut into schools funding in the future. Research has tied smaller class sizes to better academic outcomes, particularly for younger students and for those who are poor or members of minority groups.
In South Korea, teachers can earn enough to become multimillionaires. That’s not quite the case in the D.C. suburbs, but salaries for longtime teachers in some school systems can creep into the six figures. Still, the report found disparities, which can make it difficult for some school divisions to retain staff.