The Loudoun County School Board plans to invest in its own advanced technology academy, a move that could lead to a split from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
The Loudoun school system currently sends students to the Fairfax-run magnet school. But in recent years Loudoun officials have taken issue with Fairfax’s tight grip on Thomas Jefferson.
The potential advanced technology academy sits atop the list of the Loudoun County School Board’s construction priorities for the next six years, according to its proposed Capital Improvement Program. The academy represents a projected $115 million investment, with the goal of opening the facility within the next five years, by the start of the 2018-19 academic year.
For Fairfax County, the loss of Loudoun students at Thomas Jefferson would mean lost revenue, as the neighboring district pays tuition to Fairfax for each of its students attending the school. Still, Loudoun redirecting its students would open up spaces for Fairfax high schoolers.
“Fairfax has seen tremendous growth, and the number of students competing for space at TJ is at an all-time high,” said Fairfax County School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District). “We have to turn down excellent applicants every year. Adding more space and more options for students in Northern Virginia can only be a good thing.”
Thomas Jefferson was established in 1985 as Northern Virginia’s designated Governor’s School. It serves more than 1,800 students, with about 20 percent coming from neighboring school systems.
Students from Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties, as well as the city of Falls Church, attend the school, and each jurisdiction outside of Fairfax pays tuition for their students. Currently, more than 3,000 students apply each year for just 480 spots at the magnet school, according to John Torre, the spokesman for Fairfax County schools, and demand for space from all sides continues to grow.
Still, the relationships between the school systems can cause strife.
Earlier this year, Fairfax wanted the other districts sending students to Thomas Jefferson to help foot the bill for the $67 million renovation that is underway. After much back-and-forth, tuition for each student increased by thousands of dollars for the 2014-15 school year, to more than $16,000 for students starting as freshmen that fall.
While the Loudoun County School Board voted in September to extend their contract with Fairfax to send students to Thomas Jefferson for one year, they immediately started taking steps to beef up science and technology education programs in their county. This included forming a committee to create a detailed proposal for the possible advanced technology academy.
The Capital Improvement Program, which acts as a request for funding to the county for construction projects, includes a $115 million investment over the next two years for the design and construction of the academy in Leesburg. The School Board will vote on the adoption of the request Jan. 14.
“Adding an additional STEM academic facility to our region would be a win-win for students,” McLaughlin said. “With the growth in both Fairfax and Loudoun counties, students have had to deal with increased traffic and longer commutes that do not serve them well. I’m excited for Loudoun and the region.”