Fairfax County Schools to Fill Budget Gap by Cutting …um, Track?

Here’s a great example of a recurring problem in news coverage: reporters too often seem to think it’s their job to act as uncritical mouthpieces for government officials. This is a particularly grievous problem in reporting on education, where they think that covering both sides of the story means calling a school district rep and a teachers union spokesperson for a quote and then paraphrasing press releases from both.

From the Washington Post on the, as the headline screams, “Bitter Medicine In Fairfax Budget”:

[County Executive Anthony H.] Griffin suggested freezing school funding at $1.6 billion, the same level as the current year, despite a projected enrollment increase of 5,000 in the 169,000-student system. School officials, who had asked for a $57 million funding increase, must now trim programs or lobby supervisors for more money.

The reporting makes it sound as if Fairfax schools are spending a total of $1.6 billion on a projected 174,000 students. The reporters probably think that’s the case … per-pupil spending at just over $9,000. It may be double the national median private school tuition of $4,000, but hey, it’s the government.

If one happens to look at the actual school district budget, one would find that they plan to spend $3.05 billion… that’s about $17,500 per student! Oh well, only 91 percent higher than the implied cost.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale predicted in January that if the county did not increase school funding, the schools would have to raise average class size by two students, eliminate summer school and cut some popular after-school activities, including indoor track. Dale said it would take decades for the school system to recover.

Really? No fat in a budget of $17,500 per student besides summer school, track, and “popular after-school activities?” And track is their talking-point example? How much can track possibly cost; there isn’t any equipment!

Next time the Post might want to do some, you know, reporting.