An estimated 15,000 students will take exams for free thanks to a funding initiative.

Share story

Teacher David Quinn worried for months that some of his students might not be able to pay to take the exams they must pass to earn the rigorous International Baccalaureate diploma.

With no federal funding available this year, the Edmonds-Woodway IB coordinator agonized over the possibility that his low-income students probably couldn’t afford the full fee themselves. Coordinators for International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs across the state had the same concern.

So when Quinn found out earlier this month that the fees would be covered in full, he said he started crying at his desk from relief. Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib had pledged to raise money to help the students, and succeeded in getting about $400,000 in donations. Another $400,000 came from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

That means about 15,000 low-income students from across the state will have their exam fees covered this spring. And while they usually end up paying about $15 per test, this year they won’t have to pay anything.

Habib “has displayed the kind of educational and policy leadership that the students in our state have been waiting to see for years,” Quinn said. “This is an amazing opportunity for low-income students and families, and I am confident that this will promote high achievement.”

High-school students in AP or IB classes can earn college credit if they receive a high enough score on end-of-year exams. Fees range from $53 to $116 per exam, but for nearly two decades, a federal grant has helped cover much of the costs for students who qualify for the federal free- or reduced-lunch program.

The federal grant ended in late 2016, when Congress passed the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. While the new law also calls for federal help with the exam fees, there is one-year gap because the law doesn’t go into effect until next school year. That meant that this year, low-income students initially faced a minimum of $53 per exam.

In February, a group of Washington public agencies, businesses and education nonprofits announced they would try to raise enough so that low-income students would only have to pay $15 per exam, like last year. But as they surpassed that goal, Habib decided to keep going.

“When I started seeing the level of generosity, I thought let’s go the extra mile and eliminate any barrier,” he said.

Students who earn high enough scores on the exams will also save money in the future by not having to retake college courses, which can costs thousands of dollars, Quinn and other IB and AP coordinators noted. Those students will be more likely to go to college, Habib said, and eventually graduate.

“It’s part of a college-going culture, which is something we really need,” he said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for kids who need it the most.”