The School Board voted tonight to pay for another class of Loudoun students to attend the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, after hearing from a dozen parents and students in support of the idea.
The board voted 6-3 to extend the contract with Fairfax County for another year to send another class of Loudoun freshman to attend the governor’s school for the 2019-2020 school year.
Many thought this might be the year that Loudoun would stop footing the tuition and transportation bill to send more than 200 students a year to TJ because it’s opening the Academies of Loudoun south of Leesburg this fall. The county has invested hundreds of millions of dollars and years of planning into the new Academies, which will provide more seats for students interested in rigorous magnet programs. The Academies, set to open off Sycolin Road in August, will house three of Loudoun’s existing magnet programs: the Academy of Science, the Academy of Engineering and Technology, and the C.S. Monroe Technology Center.
Those opposed to extending the contract with TJ argued that the funding—and the county’s top-performing students—should be kept in Loudoun. This year alone, the school system is spending $4.3 million to send 269 students to Thomas Jefferson. That equates to $17,435 per student, and includes tuition and transportation costs, plus an additional $2,074 per student to help cover TJ’s $76 million renovation.
School Board member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said making the Academies of Loudoun excellent programs will only be made more difficult by continuing to spend much of the funding earmarked for gifted education outside of the county.
“It’s like tying your hand behind your back and trying to plow forward,” said Hornberger, who opposed the motion to extend the contract along with Debbie Rose (Algonkian) and Tom Marshall (Leesburg).
But most board members agreed to extend the contract with TJ at least one more year.
Board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run) cited newly calculated data from senior staff members that showed that the per-pupil price to send students to TJ is about the same as the per-pupil cost to educate them in Loudoun at the Academy of Science.
“The cost comparison is negligible,” Maloney said. “We need to continue expanding our gifted education opportunities, especially at the high school level.”
Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) has been a vocal proponent of cutting ties with TJ once the Academies of Loudoun campus opens, but on Tuesday she ultimately decided to support extending the contract for one more year. She stressed that she wants to provide the community with more evidence of the stellar programming at the Academy of Science, the Academy of Engineering and Technology, and Monroe Tech. “Mark my words, I will be bringing that data back and holding it up high.”
Randi Ranjan, whose son is a student at TJ, challenged some board members’ perspective that it cost too much to send Loudoun students to the governor’s school. It equates to 0.01 percent of the school system’s total budget, he noted. “We’re the richest county in America, we can spare that. For kids’ education, we must spare that.”
CJ Shah, a student at Brambleton Middle School, said he’s been preparing to attend TJ for much of his middle school career and many of his friends have been preparing for years longer. “I want to go to TJ due to its reputation. TJ is a chart-topper in terms of high schools in our country,” he said. “AET and AOS are not very well known. The quality of education may be as good or even better, but it lacks experience.”