Most Alexandrians are aware in a general way that our student population is diverse, but what does that mean exactly?
There are about 13,500 students currently enrolled in ACPS (the precise number will be available in early October). Our students come from 128 countries of birth and speak 80 different languages. My daughters have classmates from all corners of the world including Pakistan, Morocco, Honduras, and Somalia. One of their friends is from Trujillo, Peru, a small picturesque town north of Lima, which our family visited while on vacation a few years ago (much to the friend’s amazement).
The top four languages spoken are English, Spanish, Arabic and Amharic. The student population is 32% black, 32% Hispanic, 27% white, 5% Asian, and 4% other.
A large proportion of our students receive special services:
- 59% are eligible for free or reduced-price meals based on their family’s income level.
- 25% require English Language Learners (ELL) services.
- 13% receive special education services.
Some students fall into two or even all three of these categories of services. Some immigrant students arrive in Alexandria from their home countries without any prior formal schooling. In some cases, neither the student nor his or her parents are able to read in their native language. About 200 ACPS students are homeless.
For Fiscal Year 2013, the average per pupil cost in ACPS is $17,024. Breaking that average down further:
- for students receiving general education services, the average per pupil cost is $14,267;
- for ELL students, the average cost is $17,729, and
- for special ed students, the average cost is $36,374.
It’s only natural for comparisons to be made between the Alexandria and Arlington school divisions, but, in fact, Arlington is much larger, with more than 22,000 students, and our school populations are quite different. In Arlington, students are 47% white, 28% Hispanic, 11% black, and 9% Asian.
More significantly, only 31% of Arlington students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals, compared with 59% of Alexandria students. Arlington also has a smaller percentage of ELL students (17%). The percentage of special ed students is roughly the same. Given these differences in student populations, you might think that Alexandria would spend more per student than Arlington does. As it happens, the opposite is true: Arlington’s average cost per pupil is $18,675.
The bottom line is that while this diversity makes the challenges that our school division faces more complex, it also adds a richness to our students’ day-to-day experience that can’t be measured in dollars. For so many families in Alexandria, ACPS is the first stop along the path to the American Dream, and our community has the privilege and responsibility of helping them to achieve it.
Sources: FY 2013 Washington Area Boards of Education Guide; ACPS
Note: Readers have been asking how often I plan to post, and my reply is at least once a week. Thank you for your interest!