College & Workforce Readiness

AP Exams Free for Low-Income Students in Washington State

By Catherine Gewertz — March 03, 2017 2 min read
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Call it the biggest, most successful bake sale ever. Call it a cry for help answered. Whatever you call it, Washington state has raised enough money to allow its low-income students to take Advanced Placement tests for free.

That’s a pretty bracing turnaround from where the state found itself less than two months ago. Low-income students have been able to take AP exams for $15, thanks to a variety of subsidies, but they were facing a big price hike, to $53. Washington threw a big fundraiser to try to hold that $15 pricetag steady. But so much money flowed in that needy students will now be better off than they were before: The tests will be free this year.

Wait, how did all this happen? Here’s how.

As we reported in January, the Every Student Succeeds Act ended a federal grant program that has defrayed the cost of AP exams for low-income students nationwide for many years. Subsidies from states and the College Board continue to lower the cost, as they have in the past, but the loss of federal grant money left states and districts scrambling to figure out how to keep the cost of AP exams steady, between $5 and $15 per test nationwide.

Prompted by a story in Education Week that reported on the dilemma, Washington state officials set up an emergency fund to raise $800,000 for AP examsthis year. That amount would have enabled low-income students to keep paying $15 per test. But the state’s office of public instruction announced Thursday that it had collected even more money, so needy students wouldn’t have to pay a dime.

Last month, Microsoft, Boeing, and the Schultz Family Foundation made major donations to the fund. Since then, other corporations, as well as individuals and nonprofits, made additional contributions. The state also decided to commit some unspent federal money, and a $75,000 appropriation from the state legislature, to the cause.

“Students shouldn’t have to face uncertainty when it comes to whether or not they can afford to take these exams,” said Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who co-led the initiative with state Superintendent Chris Reykdal, said in a statement Thursday.

The Every Student Succeeds Act allows states to use other federal funds to subsidize AP exams for low-income students. But those funds, drawn from a big block grant in Title IV of the law, aren’t available until the 2017-18 school year. Under the law, districts are allowed to use next year’s block grant money to cover this year’s tests, but many are hesitant to do that, since the block grant hasn’t been funded yet, and no one knows how much will be available.

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