A group of Washington public agencies, businesses and education nonprofits is working to raise $800,000 to make up for the loss of a federal subsidy that made it easier for low-income students to afford exams that allow them to earn college credit while in high school.
Thousands of low-income students in Washington who lost federal financial help to take college-level exams will get assistance this spring from a new fundraising initiative.
A group of Washington public agencies, businesses and education nonprofits is working to try to raise $800,000, enough to ensure that any high-school student in Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes can afford the end-of-course exams they must pass to earn college credit. The fees for those exams range from $53 to $116 per exam.
For nearly two decades, a grant from the federal government has helped cover much of the exam costs. Last year, for example, students who qualified for the federal free- or reduced-lunch program paid just $15 per AP exam.
The federal grant ended in late 2016, when Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. Because the new education law goes into effect in the 2017-18 school year, there’s a one-year funding gap.
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Though the state and the nonprofit College Board, which administers AP exams, still pay a portion of the fees, low-income students were facing a minimum of $53 per exam.
If the fundraising initiative succeeds, however, their price would go back down to $15.
Microsoft has pledged $100,000, and JPMorgan Chase and Nordstrom have each pledged $25,000, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib said Tuesday.
The lieutenant governor’s and state superintendent’s offices, along with the nonprofit College Success Foundation hope to raise the rest by March 7, which is the deadline for students to register for AP exams.
Across the state, AP and IB coordinators have worried that some students wouldn’t be able to take the tests this spring because they couldn’t afford the fees.
Habib said he and other state leaders considered going to the Legislature for help but realized that wouldn’t guarantee any money for this spring’s test takers. So they worked with the College Success Foundation to figure out a way to help this year’s test-takers.
“It was very important to me that we would be able to make a commitment quickly,” Habib said. “If somebody is telling you that an exam is going to cost a lot of money, then you might not start studying in time. It’s important that teachers and students have that knowledge and that predictability.”
Some districts, like Highline, had already pledged to cover costs through grants. Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School, which offers an IB program, had planned to pay, but IB fee costs would have totaled as much as $40,000, said IB coordinator Colin Pierce.
News of the fundraising effort is “a huge relief,” Pierce said.
“There’s a million ways our students are going to struggle, but this shouldn’t be one of them,” he said.
Rainier Beach senior Emily Au, 17, said she has friends at other schools who wanted to be in a full IB program but told her they didn’t enroll because of the costs of exams.
She and classmate Justin Jones will take several exams this spring, in hopes of earning IB diplomas that are recognized at universities worldwide.
“I think it’s really good for the students, because when prices are so high, it really deters students who are low-income,” Jones said.