It costs taxpayers more to jail a criminal than to educate a student.
Area schools spent an average of $85 a day per student, compared with $140 a day per inmate at area correctional facilities during the 2008 fiscal year, the most recent year for which data was available.
The District spent an area high of $117 a day for each student and $141 on each inmate.
"We feel that a well-educated populace is the best answer to society's problems, including crime," Sylvia Lane, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Corrections, wrote in an e-mail.
Nationally, it cost $132,000 to educate a prisoner each year, as noted in the public school documentary "Waiting for 'Superman' " -- which noted with plenty of irony that a private school education costs just $107,000 annually.
Meanwhile, the average public school education in 2008? Just $10,259.
Beyond the cheaper cost of a public education, Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier noted the societal benefit of schooling, adding that Fairfax County provides an education to students "wherever they are, even in jail." Teachers are sent to correctional facilities to educate imprisoned minors.
Fairfax County Public Schools spent $74 a day on each student. For almost double the money -- $145, to be exact -- an inmate sat in Fairfax jails.
"It's less expensive to society in the short run and in the long-run, because the more education you get, the more likely you are to be a contributing member of society," Regnier said.
Montgomery County lavished $157 on each inmate daily, compared with $82 on a student, while Prince George's offered up $123 and $67, respectively.
Alexandria and Arlington spent most comparably: In jail, Alexandrians were worth $135 per day. And in a classroom, $107; for Arlington, those figures were $134 and $103.
Fairfax spokesman Regnier said the benefits of time spent learning pretty clearly outweigh the gains of time spent in jail.
"Well, you know what they say in Pennsylvania?" Regnier said. "I'd rather have somebody in Penn State than in state pen."
Markham Heid contributed to this article.