Lottery Schools: A win for students or a loss for taxpayers?

Lottery Schools: A win for students or a loss for taxpayers?

Arlington Public Schools (APS) hosts two of Virginia’s lottery schools: H-B Woodlawn and Arlington Tech. These schools claim to have a higher college enrollment rate and increased personal expression and diversity, but they are taking advantage of taxpayers. Parents are forced to fund a school that only a small percentage of students benefit from each year. 

Lottery schools use a system which randomly decides which students to enroll. For H-B Woodlawn, parents fill out an online application in early winter and find out if their child has “won” by the end of January. Arlington Tech applications are open from the beginning of November until the middle of January, and families receive the results by early February. Families then have two weeks to accept or decline the offer. If a student who applied was not accepted, they are then placed on a waiting list. 

Lottery schools have a significantly higher budget per student than APS’s fully zoning-reliant schools. According to APS’s adopted budget for 2023, Arlington Tech’s annual budget is about fifteen and a half million dollars—averaging out to $35,965.28 per student. By contrast, our school’s annual budget is $25,977,096—averaging out to $12,082.37 per student. Arlington Tech’s budget also includes the Arlington Career Center, where any APS student can take Career Technical Education (CTE) classes. Most students don’t take advantage of this, however. In order to take just one of these courses, students must give up two class periods to commute to and from the Career Center every day. Arlington Tech’s budget per student only includes the school’s 431 full-time students. If a student takes a part-time class at Arlington Tech, they are still counted as a part of their home school’s enrollment. These transportation costs, along with being a project-based school, significantly drive up Arlington Tech’s budget. Arlington Tech’s budget per student is almost equal to the combined costs of Yorktown, Washington-Liberty and Wakefield, the other three APS high schools.

Not all lottery schools’ budgets are outrageous, however. H-B Woodlawn’s budget averages out to just over thirteen thousand dollars per student: equivalent to the other APS high schools. Even with the added transportation costs of busing students for sports at their districted high school, H-B Woodlawn is able to keep an affordable budget. This could be due to the similarity in the way the schools are run. H-B Woodlawn is not project-based, and is almost identical to the structure of the fully public APS high schools. This is how Arlington Tech should be run: the students still receive a beneficial education and taxpayers don’t go bankrupt.

All APS schools receive money from the School Operating Fund (SOF), which accounts for all of the daily operations of schools. According to APS’s adopted budget for 2023, the county transfer makes up 81.1% of the School Operating Fund. The county transfer is money given to the school from the county, primarily composed of tax revenue from real estate and personal property. The remaining money comes from state aid, local fees, money from previous years, reserves, federal aid and a small portion of the state’s sales tax. The schools are mainly supported by residents’ taxes, and taxpayers are having more of their taxes go to a school that their child is not attending instead of something they directly benefit from. 

However, lottery schools are popular for a reason. According to Arlington Tech’s website, they have the only high school program in Arlington in which students can graduate with more than thirty college credits. Students also have the opportunity to get industry certifications through certain CTE classes they may take. By contrast, H-B Woodlawn’s main focus is student choice. This sense of self-directory is projected through student-led conferences, self-chosen schedules and weekly school meetings. This “Town Meeting” happens most Tuesdays during first period, where students, staff and parents gather and discuss issues regarding the school. Activities like these are supposed to prepare students for life after high school along with giving them a sense of the importance of democracy. 

While some lottery schools may be the right fit for some students, it should not be up to the rest of the county’s residents to support that school. The benefit of graduating high school with dozens of college credits is appealing, yet there are many alternative opportunities to this in standard APS schools. All three of the high schools in Arlington offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which can provide students college credit after high school. Lottery school students should be reabsorbed back into their districted high school, allowing the money to be evenly distributed among all APS students.

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About the Contributors
Scarlett Gray
Scarlett Gray, News Editor
Scarlett Gray is a junior and this year's News Editor. She spends the majority of her time swimming but also enjoys reading, baking and hanging out with her friends. Returning for her second year on staff, she is so excited to meet all the new reporters and see what stories will be covered!
Claire Stromseth
Claire Stromseth, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Correspondent
Claire Stromseth is a senior and is returning for her second year on staff. She is The Yorktown Sentry’s first-ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Correspondent, building on her strong interest and engagement in DEI issues. Having lived in Asia for ten years, Claire brings a global perspective to our local lens.

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