Free DC Children from Public Schools, by Terence P. Jeffrey

In the 2018-2019 school year, public schools in Washington, DC, beat public schools in every state in the union in at least one measurable category: they spent the most money per student.

That year, according to Table 236.75 released by the National Center for Education Statistics, public elementary and secondary schools in the nation’s capital spent a total of $29,925 per student.

None of the 50 states came close.

New York came in second in the 2018-19 school year with $26,799 in spending per student, or $3,126 behind the District of Columbia.

Connecticut placed third ($22,831); New Jersey placed fourth ($22,814); and Vermont placed fifth ($21,982).

This month, NCES released a new report on public elementary and secondary school revenues and expenses for the 2019-20 school year. This report, however, did not specifically present total spending per student for public schools in each of the states and the District of Columbia.

But it lists the “state, local, and federal revenue per student” used in each of the states and the District of Columbia. In this category, public schools in the nation’s capital again rank first with $30,082 in revenue per student. New York again placed second with $29,422 per student.

The national average was $15,711.

This new report also noted that in the District of Columbia in the 2019-2020 school year, total “expenditure on public elementary and secondary education” was $2,862,000,000. These expenditures included what the report called “current expenditures for public primary/secondary education” as well as expenditures on construction, land and existing structures, equipment, interest on debt and other programs. .

Public schools in the District of Columbia, according to the report, had 89,878 students in the 2019-20 school year. Thus, their total expenditure of $2,862,000,000 amounted to $31,843 per student.

Out-of-state tuition at the University of Maryland, which is just outside the District of Columbia, is $36,683. The out-of-state tuition and fees at the University of Nebraska is $27,002.

So a year at the University of Nebraska (not including room and board) would cost an international student less than a year at a DC public school would cost taxpayers.

Are these public schools worth it? Not according to National Assessment of Academic Progress tests.

In 2019, eighth graders in DC public schools scored an average of 250 out of 500 on the NAEP reading test. That was lower than the average score for eighth-graders in any of the 50 states.

Only 23% of eighth-graders in DC public schools scored at or above this reading test.

At the same time, eighth graders in DC public schools scored an average of 269 out of 500 on the NAEP math test. This tied them to eighth-graders in New Mexico and Alabama, but put them behind eighth-graders in the other 48 states.

As with reading, only 23% of eighth graders in DC public schools rated their math skills or better.

In 2004, Congress created a limited school choice program for the nation’s capital called the “District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program.”

“The purpose of the program,” explains a Congressional Research Service report, “is to provide low-income parents residing in DC, particularly those whose child attends an elementary or secondary school identified as one of the lowest performing schools .as part of DC’s accountability system, with “expanded options” to enroll their child in other DC schools.

“For DC OSP purposes,” the CRS report states, “an ‘eligible student’ is a student who is a resident of DC and comes from a household receiving assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ( SNAP) or whose income does not exceed (1) 185% of the poverty level, or (2) for a household with a child participating in DC OSP in the previous year or under the DC School Choice Initiative Act while was still in effect, 300% of the poverty line.”

With these participation restrictions, there are currently only 1,852 students enrolled in private schools using scholarships from the program, according to the program’s website.

And they don’t come close to the amount DC public schools spend per student.

“The scholarship amount for the 2022-2023 school year can be as high as $10,204 for elementary and middle school and up to $15,307 for high school,” the program’s website says.

President Barack Obama, who tried to end DC’s school choice program, did not send his daughters to DC public schools. He sent them to Sidwell Friends, a private school that currently lists its pre-kindergarten through second grade tuition at $47,200.

Congress shouldn’t just preserve DC’s school choice program, it should expand it. He should enact legislation directing that each parent of a school-aged child in the nation’s capital receive a voucher equal to the total amount DC public schools spend per student. Parents should have the power to redeem this voucher at any school they choose, public or private.

Elementary and secondary education for children in Washington, DC would then become a model for the nation – rather than sitting at the bottom of the nation.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor of To learn more about him, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: cytis on Pixabay

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