The Loudoun County School Board is considering next year’s contract with Fairfax County to continue sending Loudoun students to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, again sparking a debate over pulling out of the program.
Fairfax County extends contracts to the board on a year-by-year basis. This year, 250 Loudoun students attend Thomas Jefferson High School, and 83 of 102 accepted eighth-graders said they will attend the school next year.
Loudoun County Public Schools pays Fairfax County for the student’s tuition as well as covers transportation for the students. FCPS invoiced LCPS for $3.79 million for the students this fiscal year and LCPS allocated $500,000 for transportation.
Saving money is one of the arguments for discontinuing Loudoun’s involvement at Thomas Jefferson. Board members who wish to phase out the Thomas Jefferson option say the money spent on students’ tuition rate and transportation could instead be invested in Loudoun programs and initiatives, expanding opportunities within the county.
Additionally, LCPS continues to invest in the Academies of Loudoun, which offers advanced Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM, courses.
“We continue to grow and expand the programs there to make it available to more students, and we will continue to do so,” Debbie Rose (Algonkian District) said. “I feel at this time, this is the responsible and right thing for our county to do, to go ahead and celebrate the win that we have at the Academies and claim it as our own and let it be the shining star.”
Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District) said Loudoun also has no control in how students are evaluated for admission, or even if the contract is offered in subsequent years. Hornberger added it is more worthwhile to invest in Loudoun programs where the board has control over how programs are run.
“We had a speaker come and say we need to commit long-term [to Thomas Jefferson], well, that’s not our option, because this isn’t our school. We don’t have control over that,” Hornberger said.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles District) said that though applications to the Academies of Loudoun are increasing, students are still choosing to apply and attend Thomas Jefferson, and LCPS should provide students with the opportunity to attend Thomas Jefferson – the country’s No. 1 STEM magnet school.
“Academies of Loudoun is not and never will be a Thomas Jefferson. It is different. It is for different people, for different purposes that have different needs. So provide those opportunities to the families willing to take that risk and work that hard to get into the No. 1 school in the nation,” Morse said.
Beth Huck (At Large) said that until LCPS comes up with an exit plan that includes expanding opportunities for gifted and high achieving students in all disciplines, such as the performing arts and STEM, she could not support withdrawing from Thomas Jefferson.
The board will vote on whether to continue to send new students to Thomas Jefferson High School at its May 28 meeting. Even if the board votes against sending new students, students already accepted into Thomas Jefferson won't be affected.
The board has until June 1 to notify Fairfax County if it is renewing or not renewing the contract.