It is easy to understand why it costs more to educate students who are:
- Economically disadvantaged,
- Have limited English proficiency,
- Or have disabilities.
Students within these federally-defined categories typically need intensive educational support, beyond that which other students require. State and federal regulations define minimal support requirements which school districts must follow; districts are permitted to exceed the minimum.
A 2004 US Government Accounting Office (GAO) report says it costs between 20- to 100-percent more to educate economically disadvantaged students and 10- to 100-percent more to educated ESOL/LEP students then other students. It follows that educating students characterized by both poverty and ESOL/LEP up to average levels of achievement potentially increases average costs by an even larger amount — perhaps 30 to 200 percent over other per pupil costs. A more recent (October 2014) study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a highly regarded national-level education think tank, confirms the GAO findings and further quantifies the costs of educating economically disadvantaged students in several Washington DC Metropolitan area school districts. The Fordham’s analysis shows Arlington County Public Schools spent 1.8 times more to educate economically disadvantaged students than non-economically disadvantaged students in FY12. The same report shows Fairfax County Public School spent 1.3 times more and Montgomery County Public Schools spent 1.3 times more in FY12. (The superintendent of Arlington County Public Schools has gained national recognition for his leadership in funding schools to help those in the most need.
It is important to understand that cost per pupil data reported by FCCPS and other school districts is not a weighted average accounting for the different needs (aka expenses) associated with educating different demographic subgroups in proportion to their presence in the student population. Simply stated, cost per pupil comparisons, just like comparisons of academic performance data is skewed by the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and ESOL/LEP students. (This is also true for students with disabilities.)