A recent Facebook chat comparing Alexandria’s average cost of educating a student to that of neighboring school divisions was a helpful reminder to update a blog post from the fall of 2013. Especially during budget season, it’s important for city residents to understand the composition of our student population, and how it is similar to and different from our surrounding jurisdictions.
About 15,000 students are currently enrolled in ACPS, up from 13,500 three years ago. Our students come from 134 countries of birth and speak 113 native languages (128 and 80, respectively, in 2013). The top four languages spoken are English, Spanish, Arabic and Amharic. The student population is 29% black (32% in 2013), 36% Hispanic (32%), 27% white (unchanged from 2013), 5% Asian (unchanged), and 3% other (4%).
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, unchanged from 2013. (Only one other school division in northern Virginia—Manassas City, at 60%—has a higher percentage of qualifying students.)
- 29% require English Language Learners (ELL) services, up from 25% in 2013.
- 11% receive special education services, compared with 13% in 2013.
Some students fall into two or even all three of these categories. 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 2017, the average cost per pupil in ACPS is $16,999, nearly unchanged from $17,024 in FY 2013. (The fact that ACPS held its per-pupil cost roughly flat is noteworthy; over the past three years, by way of comparison, consumer prices have increased an estimated 3½ percent cumulatively.) Breaking that average per-pupil cost figure down further:
- for students receiving no special services, the average per pupil cost is $13,706 ;
- for ELL students, the average cost is $17,375, and
- for special ed students, the average cost is $34,309.
Given that it is budget season, it’s also worth noting that the city’s appropriation per student for FY 2017 was $13,503, compared with $13,687 in FY 2013. That dollar amount has been flat for the past three years and was trending down prior to that as enrollment growth started to climb over the past decade.
It’s only natural for comparisons to be made between the Alexandria and Arlington school divisions. Arlington’s school division is much larger than Alexandria’s, with more than 25,000 students. And our school populations are quite different. In Arlington, students are 47% white, 28% Hispanic, 10% black, and 9% Asian. Enrollments in the two systems have been growing at similar rates.
More significantly, only 31% of Arlington students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals, compared with 59% of Alexandria students. Arlington also has a much smaller percentage of ELL students (17%), though its percentage of special ed students is somewhat higher (15%).
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 $18,957. Falls Church is close behind at $18,418. Fairfax County, with its 186,000 students—of which 27% qualify for free or reduced-price meals and 17% receive ELL services—spends $14,432 per pupil.
Some noteworthy stats about our teachers: ACPS now has 49 teachers who have received National Board Certification, and 77% of ACPS teachers have advanced degrees (beyond a bachelor’s degree). Also, a helpful new resource on the ACPS website called iDashboard allows the public to find division-wide and school-specific enrollment and demographic information.
Sources: Washington Area Boards of Education 2017 Guide, ACPS’s iDashboard, ACPS FY 2017 Final Budget
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