Washington State Holds Fundraiser to Pay for AP Exam Fees

By Catherine Gewertz — February 15, 2017 3 min read
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Schools hold fundraisers all the time to support programs they can’t otherwise afford. Sales of wrapping paper, citrus fruit—and of course homemade baked goods—have become a staple of public school life. But here’s a new twist: Washington state is holding a massive fundraiser to defray the cost of AP exam fees for low-income students.

Say what?

That’s right. The state’s lieutenant governor, Cyrus Habib, has teamed up with state schools superintendent Chris Reykdal and a local college-access nonprofit to launch an emergency $800,000 fundraising drive to make Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam fees affordable for low-income students this spring.

UPDATED The fund has drawn the support of big players, too, according to The Seattle Times: Microsoft is in for $100,000. Banking giant JPMorgan Chase and retailer Nordstrom have committed $25,000 each. The Schultz Family Foundation—think former Starbucks chief Howard Schultz—confirmed Wednesday that it will donate $100,000. The fund’s organizers hope to raise the remaining $550,000 by March 7, the deadline for exam signups.

Why is Washington resorting to begging for money for AP exam fees? It’s because of a recent change in federal law. When the Every Student Succeeds Act was passed in December 2015, it eliminated a longtime federal subsidy that defrays the cost of Advanced Placement tests for low-income students. Low-income students still get waivers from the College Board, and in some cases, from their own states. But without the federal funding stream, states and districts suddenly had to figure out how to replace that missing piece of the monetary pie.

Last month, when EdWeek reported on how the shift in AP funding was affecting schools, we found that many were scrambling to figure out how to avoid subjecting students from modest backgrounds to huge fee hikes. One student, Kailee Giles, who’s quoted in our story, said she didn’t think she could afford the cost of the tests at $53 each if her school couldn’t figure out a way to bring the cost back down to $15, what she paid last year. Teachers worried that some students wouldn’t sign up to take the exams because they wouldn’t be able to afford it.

When we checked around last month, some states were stepping up to fill those funding gaps and keep the price of AP exams low for students who needed it. But others, like Washington, had no solutions, and they were leaving it up to districts and schools to come up with the money, or break the news to students that they’d have to pay $53, instead of $5 to $15, for each AP test.

When Washington’s Lt. Gov. Habib saw EdWeek’s story about the AP funding situation, he reached out to Reykdal and the Bellevue-based College Success Foundation to come up with a quick fix. Time was too tight to get a funding solution through the state legislature, so the idea of the AP Access Fund was born.

Miranda Roberts, Habib’s director of outreach and policy coordinator, said the lieutenant governor is working with Reykdal and the legislature on a funding solution for the 2017-18 school year. The proposal would require that the state reserve a slice of the federal grant it will seek under Title IV of ESSA to fully subsidize the costs of advanced-course exam fees for low-income students.

Congress rounded up dozens of programs, including the AP Test Fee program, and created a block grant to support them under Title IV of ESSA. States can apply for that grant money, and can use it for many things, including offsetting the cost of AP and IB test fees for low-income students. But Congress hasn’t yet funded that block-grant program.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.