Letter: Our schools’ return on investment

Rappahannock County budgets $12.63 million annually for two small schools with a declining enrollment. A preliminary proposed budget for next year calls for an increase of 8 percent. Having taught for 20 years in both public and private Virginia schools, I became curious as to the quality of return on our taxpayer investment, so I did a bit of investigation. This issue is already charged with enough emotional reaction, so here are a few facts.

A call to the Virginia Department of Education elicited the following information. The 2011 average SAT score for Rappahannock County High School was 1470. The state of Virginia average was 1521 and the national average was 1509. (The total number of possible points is 2400.)

Next, I accessed SchoolDigger.com, a service which ranks all public elementary and high schools throughout the U.S. according to their most recent test scores. For 2011, Rappahannock County Elementary School ranked 992 out of 1067 Virginia public elementary schools. Rappahannock County High School ranked 175 out of 324 Virginia public high schools. Out of 118 Virginia school divisions, Rappahannock County public schools ranked 99th. A comparison with neighboring county schools reveals that Warren County ranked 69th, Page County ranked 68th, Culpeper County ranked 65th, Fauquier County ranked 55th, Orange County ranked 48th and Shenandoah County ranked 34th in 2011.

Before jumping to the conclusion that spending more money is the solution to these disappointing numbers, consider the following. In 2010, the District of Columbia public schools spent an average of $28,170 per pupil and ranked 50th out of 51 (50 states plus D.C.). By contrast, the Diocese of Arlington Catholic Schools spends an average of $5,157 per elementary school student, and the average cost to educate a high school student is $10,897. The 2011 average SAT score for the diocese was 1738. In 2011 Rappahannock County spent $12,818 per student, which yielded the preceding numbers and rankings.

As for our return on current investment, the facts speak for themselves.   

Regina H. Knight

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