Charter schools in the District spent $18,150 per student during the 2011-2012 school year, while Prince George’s County Public Schools spent $10,408 on each child it served, a significant difference between the highest and lowest spenders in the Washington region, according to a study released Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
The study offers what Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli says is a sobering fact about the region: A student who moves just a few streets away, from a home in the District into Prince George’s County, could see a 42 percent decrease in the amount of funding the school district provides.
“That is going to have a huge impact on the learning experience,” Petrilli said.
While the Fordham study offers the per-pupil spending data in an interactive online map, its authors do not attempt to draw any firm conclusions about educational outcomes and a school district’s level of spending. Montgomery County Public Schools, for example, regularly rates among the top-performing districts in Maryland and spends $12,649 per student, according to Fordham, far less than the public school system in the District, which spent $15,743 per student but ranks poorly nationwide.
Prince George’s schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell said there are some small correlations between spending and academic achievement, noting that it costs more to educate children who have greater needs. But, he said, “I don’t know that I would call it a causation.”
Maxwell said many other factors contribute to learning and achievement.
“It’s more than about the money,” Maxwell said. “The question is: What is the strategy for getting greater success, and how do you fund that?”
Fordham researchers spent a year analyzing data from school districts and local governments and found that there are wide variations in per-pupil spending among school districts in the Washington area and some vast differences among schools within the districts.
Prince George’s County’s Barack Obama Elementary School spent $7,700 per student, one of the lowest rates in the region, while Judith P. Hoyer Montessori School, which had about 600 fewer students, was one of the biggest spenders in the county, at $24,042 per pupil.
Montgomery and Fairfax counties had similar disparities within their school districts, according to Fordham.
In Fairfax, which overall spent $11,704 per student in its public schools, Louis Archer Elementary School spent $8,980 per child, while Bucknell Elementary School spent $17,548, almost twice as much. In Montgomery public schools, College Gardens Elementary School spent $8,897 vs. $17,816 per student spent Washington Grove Elementary.
Petrilli said the study found that Arlington and Fairfax counties spent more money to serve students who attended schools with a high percentage of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, a federal indicator of poverty. Other districts did not, he said.
At Bucknell, 75 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, while 8 percent of the children at Louis Archer come from poor families.
Judith P. Hoyer Montessori ranks as the second-highest spending elementary school in the region. Only E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in the District spent more per student: $25,051.
Petrilli said the report was designed to provide school districts, local governments and residents with a point of reference about school funding.
“School boards and taxpayers are operating in the dark,” he said.