Young Kentuckians who challenge themselves by taking Advanced Placement classes are more likely to go to college and more likely to succeed in college, especially youngsters who are from low-income homes.
The number of public high-school students in Kentucky taking AP exams increased 35 percent from 2011 to 2015, when 31,658 students took 50,593 tests. Kentuckians earning a score of at least 3, the minimum to earn college credit, rose 40 percent.
It’s good news then that Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt has found a way to support that momentum by replacing federal funds that until now have helped pay AP testing fees for students whose family incomes fall below a certain level.
By the same token, it’s disappointing that the new federal education law reduces support for low-income students’ testing fees. The majority of states, including Kentucky, have relied on federal grants to help pay for low-income students to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests.
The new law, which Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed last year, folds the $28.5 million in testing-fee aid into a block grant.
The block grant falls short of Kentucky’s 2016-17 costs so Pruitt is reallocating $800,000 in state funds to cover low-income students’ AP and IB fees.
It’s unclear whether federal support will rebound in future years.
The number of AP exams taken by low-income students grew from 82,000 in 1999 to 850,000 in 2016. The College Board, which administers AP, says the federal test fee program was a big factor in increasing participation of low-income students in more rigorous AP classes.
Kentucky lawmakers in 2008 put into law a promise to cover AP or IB fees for all students. The bottom fell out of the economy later that year and the legislature has never appropriated money to cover test fees.
Kudos to Andrew Brennen — a 2014 graduate of Lexington’s Dunbar High School and national field director of Student Voice, a non-profit organized by students — for putting a timely spotlight on the legislature’s broken promise.
In 2008, Kentucky helped pilot the National Math and Science Initiative’s College Readiness Program which pumped $13 million into supporting low-income and minority students in AP classes and training Kentucky teachers to teach the more rigorous content in math, science and English. The program produced impressive results in terms of college readiness and success in the first years of college.
Commissioner Pruitt is right. “All students should have equal access to the benefits of AP coursework.”
Access to more rigorous classes and the chance to earn college credit can help close the “opportunity gap” for low-income kids who, given high expectations and a chance to excel, surprise even themselves.